The Semiotics of Che Guevara: Affective Gateways. Book Review by Jeongwon Gim

Cambre, Maria-Carolina (2015). The Semiotics of Che Guevara: affective gateways. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

In The Semiotics of Che Guevara: Affective Gateways (2015), Maria-Carolina Cambre focuses on the semiotic significance of images of Che Guevara and its impact on their viral distribution around the globe. Cambre investigates the multiple renderings of the Che Guevara image—appropriations of Alberto Korda’s famous photograph titled Guerrillero Heroico. She considers this image an affective gateway mediating people with different political ideologies in various contexts. In this way, Cambre does not presume the global reach of the image as the inevitable result of a human-led economic and cultural globalization process. Rather, Cambre bridges the gap between a micro perspective on materialities of the “affect” in visual image and a macroscopic view of their impact as a visual phenomenon. Doing so, the author provides us with a more holistic, concrete understanding of the obscured materiality of the abstract, intangible transmission of visual images.

(Cambre, 2015)

The book comprises eight chapters, ranging from a brief introduction to the historical and socio-political salience and branding discourse of the Korda image, to much more complex layers and stages of its actualization of virtual qualities and the discussion of related issues, such as its queer tendency. Chapter two begins with Cambre’s investigation of current controversies surrounding the use of the Guerrillero Heroico image. In this chapter, she delineates its dislocation as a brand, a commercial product, an art-work, and a cultural artifact within and outside of the Cuban context. Building upon theoretical frames from phenomenologists such as Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas and Roland Barthes, in chapter three, Cambre discusses people’s encounters with the image, which often tend to be connected with the idea of “hope.” This idea of hope as an animating motif contributes to the virtual recreation and resurrection of the Guerrillero Heroico. Following Hannah Arendt’s (1959) theory of action, the author introduces ethnographic case studies in chapter four to illustrate actioning and the performative aspects of the image; it has an effect on society by allowing multiple interpretations and being politically used by individuals with different ideologies. In relation to the image’s performativity and openness, in chapter five, the author further situates her discussion in semiotics to explain what she is doing differently. She overcomes the limitations of the reductionism of traditional semiotics, which understands the complexity and simultaneity of visual and social realities through signs operating on a plane that is simplified, rigid, and concrete. Throughout chapter five and seven, Cambre explores Donald Preziosi’s (2003) elaboration of Roman Jakobson’s addition of a fourth sign type: artifice. She connects artifice with the anthropological concept of art and agency suggested by Alfred Gell (1998) to illuminate the role of the image’s virtuality as a drive for social and political changes in the world. By doing so, the author maintains a multi-dimensional perspective on the semiotics of images. Particularly in chapter seven, Cambre emphasizes that Guerrillero Heroico itself is an agency that has generative power—the power of affect—to pull its alternative forms into different places to serve different political ideologies and authorize our “actions” in the future. In the final chapter, the author opens a discussion of the queer tendencies of the image as other possible forms of appropriations and mutation.

In the simplest terms, Cambre’s research begins with the question of “how and why does the image of the Guerrillero Heroico go viral to different places?” The author then connects this question of the reception, adaptation, and circulation of the image with the discussion of “face” in chapter seven. She maintains that Korda’s image of Che Guevara’s face bears witness to certain experiences, such as anti-imperialist and revolutionary activities. However, Cambre does not discuss the significance of “face” or explain how the material properties of “face” specifically help incubate immaterial forces—internal movements, energy, and virtual qualities emergent and realized in our encounters with “face”—to actualize as particular forms of experiences and “actions.” More specifically, Cambre does not indicate her understanding of the concept of “face” in visual images. For example, “face” can be read figuratively and metaphorically as a frontal/critical “aspect” and “appearance” or is understood in “literal” terms—literally the face of humans or objects (Adams, 2000). Although it seems appropriate to say that the author takes the definition of “face” in literal terms in her analysis of the Guerrillero Heroico, it is still important to clearly identify the concept of “face,” to illuminate its materiality and the abstract mechanism that exceeds the totality of certain features and experience.

According to the concept of “face” suggested by Deleuze and Guattari (1987), the facial image of Che Guevara can be understood as a landscape, map, or topology, which is abstracted as dominating qualities and norms at a distance and produced as an overcoding of subjects. At the same time, it is deterritorilized at a close-up scale by affording different affective energies such as a fear and hope of subjects (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). Thus, the ‘face’ of Che Guevara itself is decontextualized from the body and interior forces and functions as an autonomous entity (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). This understanding may lead us to more concrete questions about the material properties of face, such as: 1) How does Korda image of Che Guevara impose onto us to assume its face? 2) What are these dominant material qualities of ‘face’ of Che Guevara? 3) More specifically, how does this ‘face’ selectively assemble its fragmented and varying movements and illustrations of different elements such as eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and cheeks and still link them with the elements and experience of the original and other appropriations of Korda image?

Although Cambre discusses artworks or images of the human figure and their global transmission, she seems opposed to an anthropocentric belief in the sociology, geography, or anthropology of art, that institutional gestures and human creativity are what suddenly transform an ordinary image into “art” imbued with cultural and political resonances. As such, in scholarly discussion of the global circulation of visual images, existing literature on globalization has focused on analyzing the role of images as carriers of certain socio-political and cultural needs in the context of evolutionary globalization. As a result, this perspective based on evolutionary functionalism has produced a simplified interpretation of the global distribution of images as an inevitable, unidirectional movement. To overcome the limited interpretations of the phenomenon, the author pays more attention to the properties and potentials of images that assemble people to distribute and connect mobile images to future actions (Miller, 2010).

Cambre also explores the potential of democratic performance in representation and reproduction of Guerrillero Heroico through a multi-dimensional semiotics. This alternative approach to semiotics allows her to consider representation as something that not only stands for other things, but also produces, acts, and is. Building upon this perspective, the author considers ambiguous and disobedient properties of the image as significant elements that reproduce different alternatives of the image and bring possibilities for democratic change. Here her affirmation of the democratic potential of the image is not simply to suggest that images can abruptly and literally make “democratic changes” in the world; rather, it addresses the latent “virtual” power of the image that forms our collective imagining for the future change. The constant reproduction and collective consumption of the image, at a grass-roots level, allows people to collectively engage with certain imaginations of the future and reshape the way we understand politics—which may in turn bring bottom-up changes to the world.

I recommend this book for the following reasons. First, the book promotes a transdisciplinary perspective that interacts with art, sociology, material culture studies, and anthropology. Methodologically, it incorporates phenomenology, semiotics, and arts-based research. The book will also inspire a broad range of students and scholars whose research is concerned with transferable lessons of applications and methods. Second, the book achieves a balance between subjectivity— such as the author’s personal engagement with the research subject—and objectivity drawn from theoretical discussions. The book provides a critical examination of the author’s own subjectivity, recognizing what frames our seeing to better understand the complexity of our reception of visual images. Third, along with the author’s own enthusiasm for the research subject, the case studies and empirical examples from various cultural contexts provided in the book make it easier for the reader to understand the semiotics of images. I recommend this book to students and scholars interested in topics ranging from the semiotics of visual images to reproduction and distribution of images and objects, politics of visual branding, art as revolution, and the ideological and political transmission of arts.

 Jeongwon Gim (University of Alberta)



Adams, T. (2000). White Walls, Black Holes: The Molecular Face of Contemporary Architecture. Interstices 5: 26-35.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi. London: Continuum.

Miller, D. (2010). Stuff. Cambridge: Polity.


The time-space economics of renting location assets

“The location of individuals determines their job opportunities, living amenities, and housing costs.”

According to Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Adrien Bilal, an economics professor at Princeton University and PhD student, rather than buying accommodation, possibly to sell at a profit in a few years,  tenants can be thought of as investing in a location asset.  And like any asset, you need to ask “what are you getting out of it?”  According to Lifehacker,

Many people rent in places with a high cost of living for the job opportunities, good schools, cultural offerings, etc. (On a personal note… living in New York not only puts me at the epicenter of the media world, but in close proximity to any number of classes and workshops hosted by experts in every profession imaginable.)

“Buying more of the asset involves moving to better locations that cost more today but give better returns tomorrow, while selling the asset implies moving to cheaper locations with little opportunities,” the authors write.

CityLab breaks down the paper’s argument:

[W]hen you choose to move to a pricier and amenity-laden city, you’re transferring resources into the future—i.e., saving!—by establishing yourself near opportunities for higher pay and human capital, Rossi-Hansberg and Bilal argue. On the flipside, when you relocate to a community with a lower cost of living but fewer economic advantages, you’re pulling resources into the present that you might have gained in the future—i.e., borrowing.

I am an unusual case: I rent an apartment and I own a house so I see both sides of this equation.  Our critique of this comfortable view from the American Ivy League, parroted not too critically by a planning website, is that that not everyone can afford to “save” in this sense.  Also being forced to rent rather than buy is reflection of reduced choice and means in general.  It is more likely, in most North American cities, that renting places one amongst other disadvantaged people.  They may be artists on the cusp of a great break, or you might be a founding member of an activist group of the economically excluded, but they are unlikely to be successful entrepreneurs who are looking for workers. (Anecdotally, it is harder to create social bonds amongst residents in large rental apartment buildings, and easier to interact with neighbours on the street, possibly because children and pets add to the density of the web of social interactions and act as social lubricants between households).

Statistically it is much  more likely that tenants have less quality living environments, particularly in relation to childrens’ amenities, are more stressed by conflicts with landlords and unpredictable rent increases, and do not have a major asset that they can borrow against or lever as a means of responding to unexpected expenses and emergencies, opportunity costs such as tuition or even entrepreneurial initiatives.

The strategic question remains unanswered: how to make the situation work for rather than against you.  And, how would this argument fair in the case of suburban locations with long commutes, rural dwellers or urban squatters?  Turning this into an economic geography argument distracts us from other non-market decision factors such as quality of life, the ethnic makeup of the community or aesthetic factors that affect ones’ everyday sense of wellbeing.

This is a practical example of a debate that is both temporal and spatial.  It involves not only the geography of where one lives but of land speculation and rent trends into the future.  We call this elastic 4D field of rental rates, time, location and land price a topology because it combines space and time in more than 3D (non-Euclidean geometry) fluid space where these trends may move against each other to affect an outcome .

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)



Extended deadline Sept 30: Periphery and Center: Mapping Minor/Small and World Literatures

Call for Abstracts: Extended to September 30 2018.

Special Issue of Space and Culture.

HE Yanli (Sichuan University), Robert T. Tally, Jr. (Texas State University)

The relationship of literature, place and space is a hot topic in the recent decades, as evidenced by the rise of such practices as literary cartography literary geography geocriticism, and spatial literary studies more generally Among those studies, the main debates could be generalized as five perspectives: 1) literary space theories, especially on world, international and national literary Spaces; 2) literary historical maps, atlas, graphs and trees; 3) writers’ mapping texts about real & imaginative Spaces and places; 4) literary maps of writer’s birth, death, and production; 5) theoretical history of spatial turn and the relationship of literature, cartography, geography, geocriticism, ecocriticism.

These debates offer new insights about internationalism, globalization of world literature, and comparative literature studies. For example, Pascale Casanova has discussed the literary space of world literature and national literature, specifically concentrated on shifts in European literary space in the twentieth Century. Franco Moretti has focused on atlas of ninetieth Century European novels and maps of European literary history. Rob Shields draws on Wallerstein’s theory differentiating between center and periphery, the North and South, through spatial and literary history perspectives. Valdes and Kadir’s books includes enormous number of maps devised as tools for locating languages, population density, urban centers and so forth, which give new ways to map comparative literary history. Among their three volumes, Herve Thery’s appendix “The Main Locations of Latin American Literature”, uses five maps to substantiate the concept of “cultural center”. Some maps show the birthplaces of writers who died in the relevant “cultural centers”. Castro focused on the colonial literary space, and the space of Latin American literatures. Robert Tally has built a platform to understand Spaces of American literature, literary cartographies & geographies, spatial/spatiality literary studies, ecocriticism, geocriticism of real and fictional Spaces, geocritical explorations, and space/place/mapping in literary and cultural studies. These are just a few of the critics whose works have spoken to matters of space in relation to world literature in recent years.

Based on these academic achievements, this special issue is aiming at combining spatial studies and literature studies, in order to create the capacity to: a) understand the shifts between literary centers and peripheries from 1827 to 1975, with the flows of minor, small and world literatures; b) clarify the relationship between the conflicts of literary Spaces, spatiality and its related concepts of literatures. Questions to consider include the following:

  1. What kind of literary spaces (center, periphery) nurtured or forced the new terms and concepts of literatures, specifically of Goethe’s “World Literature” (Weltliteratur, 1827), Kafka’s “Small Literature” (kleine Literaturen, 1911) , Michel Ragon’s “Secondary Zone Literature” (Seconde Zone Littérature, 1974), Deleuze & Guattari’s “Minor Literature” (littérature mineure, 1975), and Casanova’s “Small Literature” (petite littérature, 1999)?
  2. Does world literature space = center, minor/small literature’s space =
    periphery, semi-center/periphery = national literature, emigrating literature? То
    what extent did literary Spaces changed with the shifts of Literary Capitals from
    1827 to 1975 (e.g. London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Moscow)?
  3. How to map literary Spaces of peripheries & centers, margins & cores, national & international, dominated & dominating, East & West, North & South through the changing items, histories, anthologies, canons and studies of world & minor/small literatures?
  4. How have political spaces and related geographical places shaped literature productions, distributions, translations, institutions from 1827 to 1975, especially in line with colonialism, World War I & II, Cold War, and Berlin Wall?
  5. How to map a writer’s literary space, with birth & death place? With
    narratives’ place? With nationalities and life traces? With Publishing houses?
  6. How to map national literary space, with writers’ birthplaces, nationalities, or geographic narratives?
  7. How to map Spaces of minor, small literatures, with changing items and concepts in world space? With writer’s marginal identities? With marginal political power and its related cultural capitals? With national geographical territories? With international and national literary awards (e.g. Nobel Prize, Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize)?

If we could draw a round map of “Literary Spaces from 1827 to 1975: Center-Semi—Periphery”, and a flat map of a “Literary Atlas from 1827 to 1975: Mapping Minor/Small and World Literatures”, which language (Germany French, English, Chinese), what color (blue, pink, red), and what marks (flag, boat, canvas, gun) would we use ?

All submissions will be peer reviewed by Space and Culture (For more information, see Journal tab).

For more information about this special issue, contact: and

Abstract Submissions to: and copy to and to

Full Papers will be submitted via

Call for Proposals: The Politics of Visibility in Public Space

Deadline for Abstracts: September 16, 2018
Special issue for Space and Culture

Ceren Sezer / Delft University of Technology, Urbanism, the Netherlands
Freek Janssens / University of Leeds, School of Geography, United Kingdom

The visibility of individuals or groups in public space is a conceptual tool useful to assess the ‘public’ character of space, allowing to examine the local socio-spatial conditions for recognition, civic participation, safety and surveillance. Visibility is understood as the condition of seeing and being seen of individuals or groups, who are identifiable as diverse through their cultural, sexual, and/or other type of manifestation.

In this special issue, we investigate the politics of visibility in public space in terms of the relations between various socio-spatial practices that construct, claim, improve, suppress, or control visibility.  The main questions that we ask are:

1. What conceptual frameworks are useful to examine the relationship between visibility and public space?
2. What are the ethical, methodological and other challenges of studying visibility as an explanatory framework of urban inquiry?

We aim to bring together an interdisciplinary collection of high-quality papers based on original empirical research on this topic. Interested contributors are invited to submit a 500-word abstract to The abstract should include:
– Title and key words;
– Author(s)’ name, current affiliation and e-mail address;
– Research questions, methodology, findings of the research;
– Maximum five key references;
– Short bio and a list of recent publications by the author(s); and
– If applicable, two related images at a good resolution (min. 200dpi).

The deadline for abstract submission is September 16, 2018. After preliminary review by the guest editors, the selected authors will be invited to submit a full paper by September 30, 2018 . The deadline for submitting full papers is February 3, 2019 . The selected papers will proceed for blind peer review process with Space and Culture.  See Journal tab for more information.

For more information contact:


How little you know about me, Seoul Korea. Exhibition Review by Jeongwon Gim

From the beginning of this year until now, South Korea has received significant global attention with their current events such as Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and renewed dialogue with North Korea. Acknowledging this urge to blur territorial and cultural boundaries, there seems to be an increased tendency in Korea to promote social and cultural activities that help citizens re-think the concept of “boundary.”

Within this changing context, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Seoul is currently holding exhibition <How Little You Know About Me> as the first project of MMCA’s 2018-19 exhibition series about the keyword ‘Asia’. The exhibition explores the new ways of understanding and re-imagining ‘Asia’ through which enable us to develop new perspectives of perceiving the world.

– Dates: Apr. 7th, 2018- Jul. 8th, 2018
– Venue: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul
– Artists: 15 Artists/ Teams, around 20pieces
– Curated by: Joowon Park

Yogesh Barve, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)

Yogesh Barve, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)
MAP office, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)
MAP office, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)
MAP office, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)
MAP office, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)
MAP office, 2018 | National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA)

Jeongwon Gim (University of Alberta)

Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics. Book Review by Karthik Harinath

Book Review of Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics. Routledge, 2017

By: Karthik Harinath (HDR)

Even as ‘informality’ has become a valuable point of study when it comes to the developing world, so much so that any study of the Global South is “inconceivable” without using the concept (Goodwood, 2016), street vendors haven’t exactly found favour as a point of analysis. Although the last couple of decades have triggered scholarly interest in street vending in India, very few studies have taken the form of a monograph. Even as Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria’s Slow Boil (2016) provides an ethnographic account of street vendors in India, it was limited in its scope because Shapiro chose to base it on the city of Mumbai alone. It is this lacuna in the sociological understanding of street vending in India that Debdulal Saha’s Informal Markets, Livelihood, and Politics: Street Vendors in Urban India aims to fill. As a scholar of development economics and labour studies, Saha’s extensive work covering 10 cities across India’s varied linguistic and cultural diversity offers a wealth of quantitative data collected from the ground, along with a reasonable amount of qualitative data, to provide unique insights into the lives of the most visible form of informality in India today.

In informal Markets…, Saha explores the lives of street vendors in urban India to study their “strategies of survival and sustenance” (Saha, 2017, p. 1). Several aspects of these strategies are explored, including the structure and characteristics of informal markets in India, the politics and survival strategies surrounding public space, the precarity and vulnerability of street vendors, the negotiations and collective bargaining that vendors undertake both successfully and in vain, and the challenges of legislating this domain of informality in contemporary India. Two heuristics that are prevalent throughout the book are the instrument of bribery – its modus operandi, uses, and flexibility – and vendors’ access to credit. Even as their use seems repetitive at some points in the text, Saha manages to add minute details at each instance in order to provide more insight to the tussle between the vendors’ informality and the state’s indifference to their struggles.

Saha’s stance on the debate between formality and informality, which he addresses in the introduction and the first chapter, sets the tone for the book. For Saha, it is the lack of employment opportunities in the formal sector that pushes people into undertaking informal jobs (Saha, 2017, p. 55). He points out on several occasions that the profession of vending needs little capital, education, and skill. Even as he cites copious data to suggest that the size of the informal sector in India outstrips that of the formal (almost to a ratio of 9:1), Saha argues that informality is a failure of formalization. It is no wonder then, that he is in favour of regulations from the state to reign in informality. However, Saha is also appreciative of the possibility that policies and regulations could be disconnected from ground realities. Taking the case of bribery, for instance, he documents how extensive the network of bribery is in several cities across in India. It cuts through several layers of bureaucracy and is a fact that is taken-for-granted by both the vendors and the officials they interact with on a daily basis. Looking into the Street Vendors Act (2014) and its provisions, Saha remains unconvinced that it could, even as it aims to provide licences to vendors at some cost, fully root out bribery. However, he provides no solution to fill this gap between the intent of the state to formalize and the potential issues in its enforcement.

Methodologically, Saha’s focus has been on collecting extensive data on various variables across 10 different cities in India. Data varies from basic parameters such as gender, religion, social group, marital status, age distribution etc. to more contextual ones such as the types of products sold, credit providers, storage conditions of unsold products, customers’ perspectives on vending. Around 2,000 vendors have been surveyed across 10 cities, making this body of data the first of its kind. While quantitatively robust, Saha’s analysis of this vast body of data falls short of expectations. For instance, when talking about the setup and composition of the Dadar market in Mumbai, Saha mentions how the market begins at 4 am daily as a wholesale market, mostly patronized by both brick-and-mortar retailers and vendors. He moves on to note how roughly four hours later, the impromptu wholesale market converts itself into a retailer’s market, welcoming regular officegoers and other individuals. Unfortunately, this routinized shift in practices of a working group is left under-analysed, with the continuities and discontinuities left unexplored.

Nevertheless, what Informal Markets…misses out on the sociological analysis of its extensive data, it makes up for in terms of its analysis of what Saha identifies as an inextricable and politically crucial aspect of street vending in urban India: the notion of public space. Saha’s discussion on public space, its links to both the everyday aspect of vending, and the more surreptitious links to bribery, and survival strategies of vendors with several actors are the strongest parts of the book. In a chapter dedicated to public space, its politics, and the survival strategies that vendors are forced to adopt, Saha develops the idea that the public space occupied by the vendor – be it legally or illegally – is her “capital” (p. 104). Siding with the long line of Marxist thought that associates social relations to public space, Saha argues that a vendor exercises two kinds of bargaining with the space she occupies – economic and social. Economic bargaining is defined as the capacity to negotiate over rates of interest on borrowing with credit providers and the rates of bribery on offer to civic authorities. Social bargaining, on the other hand, is also seen to be crucial, as it is the basis on which the vendor builds social relations with different actors such as customers, other vendors, and moneylenders. The sole consideration available to the vendor is the public space she occupies. Noting how the state denies the vendors any legal rights over the space they occupy, Saha also points out to the blatant corruption in practice, by citing an example of a market in Mumbai where civic officials have been charging unofficial rent from vendors, thereby indirectly legitimizing the vendors’ occupation of that space. At this juncture, he raises the crucial question of whether the state would do well to legalise vendors’ usurpation of public space in order to control their rapid growth and earn a legitimate income. Fieldwork across 10 cities, however, underpins Saha’s scepticism towards a solution, at the root of which is an extensive analysis of bribery as a socially networked phenomenon. Saha expands upon the types of bribes, the relationship between the products sold by the vendor and the nature of the bribe, the role of intermediaries (individuals, typically gang members used by state officials to collect bribes), and the demand-driven process of bribe payment. This leads him to conclude that the entire network of bribery acts under the radar of senior-level bureaucrats. The conclusion not only demonstrates that the ones working on policy measures are unaware of the way their own subordinates treat vendors, it also challenges Lipsky’s concept of “street-level bureaucrat” (Lipsky, 1980).

In summary, Debdulal Saha’s Informal Markets… stands tall as one of the foremost sources for data relating to street vendors in India. With 2,000 vendors interviewed, Saha manages to compile a source that is bound to be useful for researchers for several years to come. However, the book’s limitations include its lack of depth in analyzing certain well-identified phenomenon. Additionally, with the book being published just a few years after the promulgation of a landmark legislation relating to street vending, some of Saha’s access points to vendors have been negated. Nevertheless, Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics: Street Vending in Urban India is an invaluably important contribution to research on street vendors in urban India.


Anjaria, J. S. (2016). The Slow Boil: Street Food, Rights and Public Space in Mumbai.Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Goodwood, T. (2016). Urban Informality and the State: A Relationship of Perpetual Negotiation. In J. Grugel, & D. Hammett, The Palgrave Handbook of International Development(pp. 207-226). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service.New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Saha, D. (2017). Informal Markets, Livelihood and Politics: Street Vendors in Urban India.New York: Routledge.

Karl Marx 200: I contemplate… Thoughts by Nihal Perera

He has made an immense contribution to our understanding of the world. He expected us to know him through his work; to worship him is to lose his teachings. I am glad that I too learned a lot from him.

He is immensely popular, perhaps more than John Lennon who claimed to be more popular than Jesus Christ. Yet there is no one Marxism; it is quite diverse. As I crossed several cultural boundaries, I was fortunate to get exposed to a few variations.

As one of the greatest critical thinkers of our time, he questioned everything. Perhaps, he expects us too to be critical of his own work; i.e., to critically build on it.

He was the greatest European anti-systemic thinker, who thought outside the box. Transcending the theory-practice duality, he approached his work from the standpoint of praxis; he learned history in order to change it because it was unjust. He saw that the society is not one, but made of classes and is in conflict (than consensus). His work laid the foundation for social history.

He probably does not expect us to remember what is in Das Capital, an examination of 19th c. European capitalism, but to further develop the synthesis of his work: The Communist Manifesto.

To learn from a great person is not to import that persons time-, space-, and culture-specific findings (the model or the diagram), but to learn from her/his process of investigation and thinking; i.e., to carry out investigations inspired by her/his work, but within our own culture, time, and space, and find avenues to make a difference.

Despite violence caused in his name, his work was perhaps driven by the kindness that opted to liberate the exploited (than an animosity towards capitalists). His thinking was not limited to the working class too. He talks about many classes, especially during the French Revolution.

Most useful for my own work (especially People’s Spaces) is his understanding that the working class people (and the subjects of society) are not victims of capitalism, but “survivors.” They produce value and could change the system. They are agents of change.
Maybe our historic role -according to him- is to be partners of the revolutions that people carry out than look for people to follow our revolution.

Seeing the ongoing transformations perhaps requires a new vision (intellectual glasses). The (broader) agents of social change may not wait for outside leadership (the vanguard) and self-appointed representatives.

Nihal Perera is Chair and Professor of Urban Planning at Ball State University and the founder and Director of CapAsia, an immersive learning-by-doing semester in Asia based on collaborative projects with Asian universities.

Further Reading:


Donna Haraway: Staying with the Trouble. Book Review by Juan Guevara

Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin with the Chthulucene London: Duke University Press. 2016.

Staying with the Trouble compiles Donna Haraway’s latest thoughts.  In the book, Haraway calls for the need to reflect and think on the possibilities for facing the era post-Anthropocene, the era of, what she calls, the Chthulucene. The book is divided in eight chapters that can be presented in three parts: the first 4 chapters of the book are mainly ‘theoretical’ and serve to conceptualize String Figures-SF, Tentacular Thinking, Sympoiesis and the Chthulucene; the second part (Chapters 5, 6, and 7) provides practical examples of becoming-with other species and elements to show how the Chthulucene can shape and transform our human ways to relate with other species and the planet (Terrapolis in the Chthulucene); the last part builds on science fiction (Speculative Fabulation-SF) and storytelling as a way to present the forms the Chthulucene may have (Proctor, 2017). Response-abilities is one of the main and most important elements of the book alongside with String Figures-SF, Becoming-with, Tentacular Thinking and Sympoiesis; these concepts are explored in this review.

I am not particularly engaged in Haraway’s work. However, in this book, I observe how the author engages with Northern aboriginal perspectives, Feminist theory, Biology, Ecology, and Postmodern theory. I found intriguing the way the Nomad is presented in the process of becoming, that for Haraway is always becoming with other species. The book has the merit of exercising imagination and for bringing some Northern Aboriginal wisdom to thinking the post-Anthropocene.

For Haraway, the Chthulucene is an era (with no time nor history) in which human race will confront its arrogance and ‘superiority’ and humbly make kin with the biological critters coming from the under-ground. The Chthulucene is the era in which humans will make kin with tentacles, spiders, bacteria, different ways of perceiving, living and dying, and becoming-with in n-dimensional time-spaces.

I observe that some concepts of the Chthulucene, especially its n-dimensional time-spaces and becoming-with, are inspired in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming. In her conceptualization of the Chthulucene, Haraway forgets Deleuze’s exploration of the Tick in Difference and Repetition to deconstruct and dissolve the static and unity of the self, to open up the possibilities of becoming. The Tick relies on different structures outside of itself, at the organic level, to perceive the world (Posteraro, 2016). The idea of the Tick is explored by Deleuze inspired by the work of von Uexhüll. Von Uexhüll suggests that each living cell perceives and acts but also “has perceptual or receptor signs (Merkzeichen) and impulses or effector signs (Wirkzeicheri) which are specific to it” (von Uexhüll, 1934, pp. 322-323). From this idea, von Uexhüll (1934) argues that “perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt” (p. 320).

What is really important in von Uexhüll’s work for this book review is the acknowledgement of n-dimensional time-spaces of the Umwelt. This category is relevant in Haraway’s book but not well developed. The recognition of n-dimensional perceptual spatio-temporalities in each “soup bubbles (perceptual and effectors living cells) which intersect each other smoothly, because they are built up of subjective perceptual signs” (von Uexhüll, 1934, p. 339), plus the way in which time regards a succession of moments by different subjects are key elements of the Umwelt. This is indeed related to the entanglements of species and the actual existence of n-dimensional time-spaces that Haraway suggests for the futuristic Chthulucene.

Continue reading Donna Haraway: Staying with the Trouble. Book Review by Juan Guevara

Strauss, Rupp and Love: Cultures of Energy. Book Review by Moni Holowach

Strauss, S., Rupp, S., & Love, T. (Eds.). (2013). Culture of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

You do not even have crack its spine to correctly anticipate its contents. The cover of Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies features anthropomorphised electrical transmission towers across lush hills and plains.  They suggest that energy—in the form of fossil fuels and electricity—gives shape to modern human life.

Cultures of Energy: A Conversation Starter

This collection of sixteen theoretical and ethnographic accounts bridges the gap between culture and energy systems. This book’s global but narrow scope will expand your notion of energy and bring visibility to the often invisible energy sources that we rely on daily.

This book, edited by three American anthropologists, “explores cultural conceptions  of energy as it is imagined, developed, utilized, and contested in everyday contexts around the globe” (p. 10). From pointing out the many interpretations of the notion of energy in New York, to observing how communities in rural Peru finally feel connected to the world through electrification, to viewing coal mining as a culture and a livelihood in Wyoming, and to revealing conflict in the Gulf of Mexico over deepsea oil drilling, this book delves into the myriad ways that ‘energy’ interacts with cultural, economic, and political systems.

The book is well-structured with an easy-to-read tone. It is divided into five thematic sections, which offers a cohesive structure and flow to the compilation. A casual “conversation” between the authors concludes each section to highlight key points. Together, these features would make for an excellent undergraduate or graduate level resource, as the book can be read out of order, used for selected chapters or topics, or could be quickly grasped using the conversation pieces. Courses in anthropology, sociology, or science technology studies could draw from many implicit themes within the book, such as the (im)materiality and (in)visibility of energy.

The other benefits (and weaknesses) of this book involve its scope. First, this book’s use of ethnographic accounts creates a contemporary focus. In regard to the interplay of energy and culture, the authors do not focus on how we got here, where we are going, or what we should do. Instead, its  stories are largely about right now. This allows the readers to gain an in-depth snapshot of the multiplicities of energy and their affects today, but while sacrificing historical context to get in all that detail.

Similarly, the book aims for a global scope but falls short. First, out of sixteen chapters, six focus exclusively on topics within American borders, and four more largely involve American relations o=r western perspectives. Thus, the authors’ global focus takes a western turn. Unfortunately, they skip out on Asian countries entirely. Finally, the ‘conception of energy’ used in this book stems largely from fossil fuels and renewable energy technologies. Although they address a diverse range of sources—wind, biomass, oil and gas, and coal—this scope is narrowed again by the contemporary focus. In comparison, Ian Morris’ How Human Values Evolve: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels (2015) offers a historical look at how energy has shaped human values. Unlike, Cultures of Energy, Morris applies a more general conception of energy, where energy comes from foraging,agriculture, and fuels. Although Morris’ macro-theorizing is quite grandiose compared to the well-focused insights from Cultures of Energy, these two books are not in contest. Rather, they would pair nicely for a more well rounded understanding of energy and culture. Overall, Cultures of Energy’s narrow focus best allows readers and students to expandt heir understandings of energy as it plays out today from a western perspective. It will be sure to spur conversations by making visible one’s own daily interactions with energy systems.

Moni Holowach, University of Alberta, Canada.


Morris, I., Richard, S., Spence, J. D., Korsgaard, C, M., & Atwood, M. (2015). How Human
Values Evolve: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University

Manuel DeLanda: Assemblage Theory. Book Review by Kalan Kucera

Manuel DeLandaEdinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2016, ISBN: 978-1-4744-1363-3

When describing the genesis of the 1971 animated film The Point, Harry Nilsson said the idea came to him when he was “on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to points. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a point to it’” (Jacobson, 2004). While Nilsson may not have actually inspired anything about Manuel DeLanda’s Assemblage Theory–a refinement and expansion of ideas from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari–this quote could serve as a tongue-in-cheek thesis statement for the work. Manuel DeLanda is a philosopher and filmmaker who lives in the U.S. and, in recent decades, has cultivated an interest and expertise in the philosophical works of both Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard (Cvjeticanin, n.d.).

The idea of assemblages explored here originates from Deleuze & Guattari’s book, A Thousand Plateaus, where assemblage is defined as “a multiplicity which is made up of many heterogeneous terms and which establishes liaisons, relations between them, across ages, sexes and reigns – different natures” (DeLanda, 2016, p. 1). For the most part, DeLanda hews fairly closely to the theory of assemblages presented therein, framing this work as an “attempt to bring these different definitions together, introducing and illustrating the terms required to make sense in them” (p. 1). In the endeavor to define and explore assemblages across a variety of disciplines he mostly succeeds, with the exception of a discussion of topics related to the virtual that obfuscates and nearly sinks the whole construction that is presented.

After introducing important structural and definitional concepts, DeLanda uses the first few chapters of the book to refine these ideas and uses them to contextualize different historical assemblages. Concepts important to defining the construction of assemblages–exteriority vs. interiority, coding, emergence, singularities, historical entities, and territorialization–are all defined and set in several historical contexts including Human History (Ch. 1), the Evolution of Languages (Ch. 2), the Weapons of War (Ch. 3), and Scientific Practice (Ch. 4). Myriad examples in these chapters help show how assemblages form from heterogeneous components which ebb and flow as they are encoded / decoded and territorialized / deterritorialized. Assemblages themselves form larger assemblages, painting a complex systems theory that DeLanda uses to great effect with the assistance of these examples. In later chapters, the topic turns to the virtual and to a concept that DeLanda calls the “diagram” of an assemblage, a sort of “potential space” describing possible attributes of an assemblage that aren’t currently displayed.

In these latter chapters, the coherent tapestry of assemblage theory begins slowly to unravel. Discussion of assemblages and components thereof is tacitly abandoned for an exploration of their virtual counterparts, or diagrams. A description of something akin to a potential space, or representation, is described and explored, only to be seemingly tossed aside as a step towards “reified generality” (p. 138). Another section leads to conceptions of topological time and counter-actualization, concepts that DeLanda concedes are so abstract that special tools are needed: “Tools to manipulate these intensities… in the form of a growing variety of psychoactive chemicals that can be deployed to go beyond the actual world, and produce at least a descriptive phenomenology of the virtual” (ibid., p. 133). Until some rogue libertarians rescue the world from the tyranny of psychoactive sobriety, though, I fear these concepts shall remain shrouded in an impenetrable haze of conjecture.

Fortunately, the rest of the book is more accessible and, as an attempt to define and explain a theory of assemblages, this work is largely successful. DeLanda’s description of the components of assemblages and the ways in which they emerge based upon the coding and territorialization of their components is lucid and the historical examples help define a clear image of the concepts. As a materialist philosophy, the idea of assemblages is an attractive way to construct the dynamic interrelationships between history, components, and the whole that emerges from them. Several fascinating ideas are presented in an effective manner, including that the properties of an assemblage (or system) are emergent and not simply the summation of the properties of components, and that the history and ‘individuality’ of the assemblage is key to its properties, something DeLanda calls the “processes of individuation” (p. 140). These ideas are important to the theory and provide useful and welcome scaffolding for other conclusions.

Assemblage Theory works to refine and clarify some of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas. There are interesting views worth considering for sociologists and those who wish to explore ideas of complex systems and their components. If, perhaps, someday another author attempts to summarize and expand upon a vision of assemblage theory, this edition will undoubtedly prove an invaluable reference. Unfortunately, an opaque treatment of the virtual and the complete lack of a unifying conclusion–or concluding statement of any kind–prevent this work from effectively making its Point.

Kalan Kucera, University of Alberta, Canada


Cvjeticanin, S. (n.d.). Manuel DeLanda – Biography. Retrieved from

DeLanda, M. (2016). Assemblage Theory (First). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jacobson, A. (2004). What’s The Point? The Legendary 1971 Animated Feature on DVD. Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved from

Eduardo Kohn: How Forests Think. Book Review by Anthony Fisher

Kohn, E. (2013). How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

When people think of trees they most certainly would not associate them with having the ability to create thought processes. This is, of course, because trees have no brains. However, in his book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (2013) Kohn indicates that trees (and other beings) have the ability to think and discusses how they accomplish this. He pushes the reader to step out of an anthropocentric view and re-evaluate how humans can interpret the world. Indeed, the author stresses that the field of anthropology has been too short sighted and has not yet fully explored how other beings constitute what it is to be human. Therefore, by studying the world outside of the human this gives insight towards what it truly means to be human. Kohn explores this idea by conducting an ethnographic study of the Runa people in Avila, Ecuador.

Kohn builds his case that trees and other nonhuman entities think by delving deep into semiotics. He explains that all beings can represent, produce, and interpret signs. Thus, the entire world is made up of semiotics. All beings, in their own way, respond to these signs and subsequently grow and adapt to these sensory inputs. Kohn repeatedly emphasizes that signs go further than just simply the realms of human symbolic interpretation. The author recognizes that even evolutionary success is dependent on responding or not responding to particular environmental signs. An “ecology of selves” is then used to explain how relationships between individuals, through the process of sign interpretation, is how individuals are defined. Individuals then can be said to “represent and are represented by other beings” (p.78). Therefore, “if selves are thoughts and the logic through which they interact is semiotic, then relation is representation” (p. 83). This is made clear by examining tree characteristics and spatial orientation. Trees that have specialized characteristics “form relatively more nuanced and exhaustive overall representation[s] of the surrounding environment” (p.81). Pest resistance is an example of these specialized characteristics and this shapes where a tree species can be naturally found. This is how trees think. Relationships amongst trees (and other beings) form repeated arrangements that can be predictably exploited. Modern and historical forestry markets are one example of humans’ understanding environmental relationships or misunderstanding in the case of over-logging. These misinterpretations or simply ignoring environmental associations is called soul blindness where “treat[ing] other selves as objects” (p. 119) and being “[unable] to see beyond oneself or one’s kind” (p.117) is the cause of not understanding the interconnectedness of nature.

The author explores complicated topics, such as the ecology of selves, by using examples in everyday Runa life. Metaphors as well as pictures are used to emphasize key points. Consistently referencing and referring back to environmental examples firmly grounds this theoretical work. Kohn does a fantastic job in explaining how understanding relationships amongst various beings can sometimes be quite complex and that the virtual can be sometimes used to understand the perspective of other beings. The Runa often use dreams or the hallucinogenic properties of substances to make sense of the living, material world. Continue reading Eduardo Kohn: How Forests Think. Book Review by Anthony Fisher

What is Strategy? The Topological Exercise of Power

Topology of Power

What does it mean to say that power operates ‘topologically’ in politics, economics and everyday life?  Topology concerns non-Euclidean geometries – the kinds one might observe if one stretched a drawing of a triangle. Another example of a topological transformation is if one added dimensions to the drawing, extending the triangle into a 3 dimensional pyramid or developing and imagining it even further in more dimensions.

The topological character of power is that it exceeds ‘action on bodies’ or ‘action on others’ actions’ (cf. Foucault). Using techniques and administrative apparatuses, power can be projected as ‘action at a distance’. ‘Reach’ is a keyword that describes this extension of power to actualize it and put it into action despite intervening distances and mediations . For example, we talk of ‘the long arm of the law’.

The powers of a topological sensibility

Powers are multiple, subtle and include influence. ‘Reach’ describes the influence an actor may have on other actors.

Powers exists in and as ‘power relations’, whether the parties are aware that power is a factor. That is, power doesn’t have to be exercised as much as it simply has to have an effect. As such it is not a concrete thing but a virtual or intangible thing. It is real but not actual, ideal but not abstract. It has a multiple quality. There is no single ‘power.’

Sovereignty’ designates the aggregate powers exercised by the state. History is the time of this power-exercise. Territory is the space of the exercise of sovereignty.

However, States can no longer pretend to guarantee their citizens’ safety from other threats that are themselves powerful. These might include the threats of drone strikes and collateral damage and death (Pakistan, Somalia), of chemical poisoning by nerve agents (UK Skripal nerve agent poisoning), from drifting radiation particles (Scandinavia after the Chernobyl disaster), or from pandemics (SARS in Toronto Canada).

The polis, now often associated with cities, is the space of the demos, the people and democratic opinion.  It is a distinct space-time of assembly and belonging and as such a distinct topological entity.  It is not just a different scale.


Strategy’ is a political technology that aims to persuade by establishing the spatiotemporal and other background conditions of a debate. A common strategy is public ‘consultation’ which aims to establish a ‘pubic will’ extracted from a population that legitimates a political course of action and/or the exercise of power. Power is not always exercised strategically, but even whimsical applications of power, if consistent, can be described as part of a strategy.

Tactic’ is the deflection of strategies, in the absence of control over the spatiotemporal and other dimensions of the context of a situation or of the exercise of power (cf. DeCerteau).

Influence,’ the multiplicity of powers, means that strategy is not closed off from the public or subaltern groups, or even individuals that act through social media as ‘influencers’.

Social media technologies and platforms have created new manifolds or spaces of power that exceed the reach of sovereign territories. These technologies are political and their strategic use for disinformation, persuasion has reconfigured the terrain of politics and the reach of these social media actors in general. For example, influencing the US election, extended Russia’s reach into the processes of the US sovereign state as well as into American territory.

Why? The reach of a topological sensibility

All this is more quickly grasped if one has a topological sensibility, looking to dimensions and influences rather than fixed actors such as “the State”.  This approach allows us to move from understanding positions of strength in a debate, project or struggle toward how to actualize that position as effects, to understand its reach; or to put it simply, to understand the power of the position explicitly.

Bearing the topological qualities of power in mind allows us to compare in one plane, so to speak, between power-geometries that are fixed, and to see the operation of power-topologies that stretch or bring new dimensions to the exercise of power. It allows a point-to-point comparison that pinpoints the effectiveness of the transformation that has occured despite the differences in appearances or the complexity of any resulting folded, stretched, involuted or flattened topologies.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)


Comparison with Michel DeCerteau’s notion of tactics and strategy from The Practice of Everyday Life (translated from French 1984)

Strategy: “the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment.’  A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, ‘clienteles,’ ‘targets,’ or ‘objects’ of research). Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model”(Certeau xix);
Tactic: “a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (spatial or institutional localization ),nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tacticbelongs to the other.  A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without  taking  it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance…”(Certeau xix).
Operations: goes along with tactics as actions that form a “network of an antidiscipline”(Certeau xiv-xv).
Trajectory: “suggests a movement, but it also involves a plane  projection; a flattening out… a graph… a line that can be reversed” (Certeau xviii).

Works cited:

de Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

de Certeau, M. (1985). Practices of Space. In M.Blonsky (Ed.), On Signs (p. 134ff.). Oxford U.K.: Basil Blackwell.

Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges – Book Review by Nadine Suliman Abdelrahman

 Egyptian army soldiers arrest a female protester during clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Dec. 17. Stringer/Reuters/Landov
Image of “the girl in the blue bra”; a prominent picture from the Egyptian revolution in 2011, referenced in page 1 of the book. Tahrir Square, Cairo. Dec. 17 2011 (Stringer/Reuters/Landov) Click to link to video.

Mia Lövheim Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges (London Routledge 2013)

Dominant religious institutions have, historically, had strict normative boundaries, especially when it relates to gender. Technology and globalization, through the media, may have instilled what would be referred to as “unorthodox” religious views and perspectives on gender and its preexisting constructs. Focusing my argument on Islam, present day media outlets have certainly impacted the voices of different genders and potentially their roles, creating a “modern Islam” that is better adapted with the world and views from around the world. It is worth noting, however, that the media has consecutively created wider space and reach for religious authority and political religious authority, as will be elaborated further in this book review. Capturing such opposing roles the media plays relative to gender and religion remains a challenge.

One of few books that relate media, gender and religion while taking into account social constructs on sex/ gender similar to Butler’s1 concepts of regulatory materialization of gender and gender performativity, Mia Lovheim’s “Media, Religion and Gender” can be considered a breakthrough across several distinct but overlapping fields. Drawing on historical concepts and theories, the book is an attempt to bring third wave feminism and gender into front centre of its research that is rooted in academia yet based on participatory and reflexive research. This book had an overarching goal of challenging research gaps on the interrelations between gender and its cultural/ societal constructs, religion and the media. Contributors to the book covered a wide range of topics including theoretical perspectives as well as more detailed case studies of different religious views in the media; drawing on examples from various parts of the world.

Continue reading Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges – Book Review by Nadine Suliman Abdelrahman

The Social Life of Infrastructure

Rob Shields, October 27 2017.  Space and Culture Research Group

On October 27 Rob Shields presented asking, ‘What are the social effects of built infrastructure?’ Changing public interaction with civic infrastructure accumulates to changes in Canadian social forms. Infrastructure affects social integration, accessibility, and inclusiveness. Infrastructure choices affect the relations of core and periphery, and the exercise of sovereignty and Canadian values.

 Reflection notes

1. Infrastructure as representation of the system and program of the city?

Infrastructure has often been believed to reflect how the city creates its system and manages natural resources. However, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes infrastructure functions in a way that is not planned or expected. For example, we may find many built infrastructures such as bridges that were designed to provide a new passage over an obstacle or adjust the traffic flow/density. Instead, they are now being used mainly as venues for festivals, markets, or more stationary activities. In this sense, infrastructure may not necessarily be “broken” or “dysfunctional”, but it sometimes evolves or is re-purposed by the local residents to serve different or even multiple functions.

Continue reading The Social Life of Infrastructure