Pokémon Go – The Peoples’ Republic

Pokemon Go
Pokemon Go – Photo: Deng Ziru (CC 2016)

With the slicker interface and better users’ experience of Pokémon Go, the game is very popular in China as well. A great deal of students are getting over the wall so that they could have access to play Pokémon Go. Many young people, especially those who watched Pokémon and Digimon when they were young,are becoming addicted to it. They collect Pokémon eggs on their way to school, work, gym and so on. What’s more interesting is, since it’s now summer holiday,  many youth walk up and down at home to catch Pokémon eggs and they can rank top among all their friends on Werun (a step counting ap in Wechat) due to the steps at home.

Some of the Chinese players consider this game as a time killer and a way for recreation, some of them just play for networking, which means they can catch up with peer culture via this game. Some of them are aware of the game is boring but they just cannot stop because once they get into the game, they would be eager to collect all the Pokémon eggs. As a result, from many players’ perspective, Pokémon Go is more like a kind of collection game and social network game than a battle game.

Admittedly, with the fast pace of globalization and the transmission of information, there are lots of fans of Pokémon Go from all over the world and the share price of Nintendo increased dramatically these days. However, many people hold skeptical views of this game. First is the information security. The game needs our GPS location and other private information, which may cause the players’ personal data to leak out. Some traditional Chinese people even hold the opinion that the game as a Japanese martial plot, which may harm national interests. Secondly, what’s the meaning of the game? Some players feel it boring and have unloaded the game already. The trend changes everyday. How long can the popularity of Pokémon Go last?Let’s wait and see.

Ziru Deng (East China Normal University / University of Alberta)

Pokémon Go – The latest in place making?

You go to the Pokémon (creature) so you actually have to see the monument and it opens people up to the city. The game highlights local art and monuments for people who otherwise wouldn’t have known they existed (Edmonton Pokémon Go player).

pokemon go picture (4)

There is a craze targeting 20-somethings in our fair city. It’s Pokémon Go. For those who missed the Pokémon movement of the late 90’s, Pokémon are little creatures such as snakes, rats, dragons, eggs, etc. and the goal of the game is to ‘catch ’em all’. The new virtual Pokémon Go has exploded among those nostalgic for their  Pokémon past. While Pokémon Go players wander the parks and playgrounds in search of these little creatures, one can’t help but wonder if there is something else happening.

Is Pokémon Go a new opportunity for public engagement?

Michel de Certeau argues that stories, dreams, histories and myths connect people to places and render them tangible and habitable. Pokémon Go could be a new form of urban myth that not only connects, or reintroduces, Pokémon participant to the sights and sounds of their city, but also spontaneously brings people together, creating random, fluid and temporary ‘communities’.

Pokémon Go is ‘bowling en masse’ and is a golden opportunity for engaging, talking, reaching out, involving, inviting, attracting and introducing the uninitiated to the art of planning our public spaces. As any urban planner will tell you, public engagement can be quite disengaging for many citizens. The challenge is to balance needs, interests, concerns of all citizens often within tight fiscal constraints and many times, only a fraction of citizen voices are heard.

While this new fluid Pokémon Go audience may not necessarily be ‘captive’, they are ‘out there’, gathered in public spaces and maybe even available to talk about these newly rediscovered public spaces and perhaps other planning issues that come to mind….bike lanes, infill, public art, affordable housing, urban sprawl, etc. etc. But like all crazes and fads, this too shall pass, and planners must strike while the iron is hot. So come on planners, get your Pokémon game on, join in, and see what happens.

Dianne Gillespie (University of Alberta)

A Conversation on Brexit

Rob Shields, Joost Van Loon, Justine Lloyd, David Harvey, Joerge Dyrkton, Michael Schillmeier.

RS: I regard the [Brexit] vote as one of the times in my adult life that I have been diminished.  I’m so glad I had the chance to do a year in France on an UK EU Passport.  That would have been an enormous bureaucratic challenge to organize based on Canadian citizenship without the right to reside in France.

Some interesting network analysis.  What are people saying at the universities?

Brexit is a fact now and is expected to have a significant impact on the economies of the United Kingdom and its key trade partners. One impact area relates to the European Union’s research funding in the form of its current Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, as well as ongoing projects funded as part of the previous Seventh Framework Programme. A significant number of universities, knowledge institutes and companies from the UK currently participate in these programmes. Exactly which organizations and projects are potentially impacted, and how are they connected? Network science provides an initial view.  In the immediate wake of the Brexit vote on June 27, I didn’t see much in the way of macro-level scenarios such as this except for Yanis Varoufakis.

Guardian: “Almost unnoticed amid the post-Brexit hysteria, French president François Hollande announced his intention to veto TTIP, the free-trade treaty between the EU and the US. For clarity, that means it is dead…”

JVL: Regarding Brexit,  I have come across a few bits about prognoses that Brexit is bad for academic research, because British universities are the ones that rake in the most European Council research funding.  However,  I sense that the entire “debate” about the consequences of Brexit involve unfettered amounts of economic-ideological speculation.
From a historical materialist point of view, this is really a textbook Gramsci-case: the Referendum concerned issues related to a split within the hegemonic block and the choice on offer was between neo-liberalism and English nationalism.

There are a few English nationalists who believe that Brexit will enable a more just society within the UK, however the vast majority of Brexit votes are from the disenfranchised (northern) working class and elderly people. Although Brexiteers have denied this, strong racist, xenophobic and even fascistic sentiments have been associated with the slogan “taking our country back”. It became immediately clear that Britain is a project and that the nationalism is primarily an English nostalgic natio nalism, as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all strongly voted against Brexit and are now seeking secession from the UK if they are to leave the EU.

Social media played a massive role as a public forum before and after the referendum and the expression “the country is split” is very accurate. This entire episode made me think about the 18th Brumaire mixed with passages from the Prison Notebooks.  As a revival of (radical) nationalism sweeps across Europe, right wing populist movements will seek to cash in on this sentiment,. Which is similar to Trumpmania in the USA: The more intelligible analyses however refer to neo liberalism, austerity capitalism and the geopolitical disorder associated with the warfare state that are driving the crisis. None of the right wing populist movements will address this and prefer a repetition of (German) history: the crisis of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism of the 1920s. I have referred to this as the rise of idiocracy. Of all people I have had contact with, it are the Germans (even the most inward-looking amongst my Bavarian friends) that understand this danger the best. I was amazed to hear how well informed they were about this unfolding of what has been for a long time  primarily a crisis within the British Conservative Party into a full blown and potentially very dangerous crisis in Europe.

Should we do a kind of special blog issue on kleptocracy, idiocracy and the impeding class warfare (provisional title: the gloves are off)?  Take care  Joost Van Loon

JL: I am working on a project with colleagues here that connects with the ‘entangled’ media histories folk at Hamburg and Bournemouth, and after the weekend they are worried that looks like it would have less chance of being sustained.

apart from that Australia feels very far away and I’m sure that those who are nostalgic for the Empire are keen for us to be drawn back into the fold rather than make transnational connections.

the regional aspects are really interesting, maybe the predictions of neo-feudalism are right?!

cheers  Justine Lloyd

JD: If you have time, you might want to check out my latest blog (produced in haste) which follows the lead of the Guardian article I suggested to you last night.  After a quick read of George Orwell’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” I offer you … “London Bridge is falling down: George Orwell on Brexit

England is a family with the wrong members in control.  Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth.[5]… (George Orwell)

Cheers  Joerge Dyrkton

DH: I don’t see how an analysis of this sort can proceed without considering the problems of voting for remain.  After all the European Union has done to Greece I think it is impossible to read the EU as about mutual aid and support for a common project. And remember how the German press demonized the Greeks as inferior beings so xenophobia is everywhere and not just a strong current within the Brexit camp. Who benefited from the Euro venture? To pretend that the EU has not been a convenient vehicle for a German nationalist project and that all is well on that front is also to accept a surface reading that disguises some much more malevolent practices if not conscious designs.  Voting either way encounters the problem of keeping some pretty unsavory company whichever way one went.  On the surface it looks as if the more malevolent company is on the exit side but they do not have the power.  Are  those that have the power and who clothe themselves in a veneer of respectability (e.g. Cameron and Merkel) any less malevolent? I think not.  In this vote we were damned if we did and damned if we did not.

David Harvey

MS: interesting paper by W Davies on the Sociology of Brexit

MS: Dear David, Dear All:

As far I can see, your email is a response to Joost’s email, who tried at least to reflect the situation in the UK, and I fully agree with most of Joost arguments.

I was quite surprised – to say at least – with your kind of analysis, which I think  – to be honest – is more about a general critique of ‘capitalism’, ‘xenophobia’,  ‘EU’ and “Germany” than it does reflect the Britsih nationalism/feudalism and the reasons to vote for opting out. Clearly Brexit is about xenophobia and capitalism. No doubt. But to shift the problem to a “German nationalist project” seems to me a good example of what I have experienced in the UK throughout the In/out campaigns. It is reflects a general attitude in the UK I think, to shift the problem to others …  I am not saying that the EU cannot do better and I am saying that they need to do better (including Germany of course), and I am fully aware that the Greek situation was not all  what the European Idea is about.

Clearly, these kind of ‘democratic processes’ like the referendum and how it was instrumentalized by those you were stoking fears is in itself rather problematic. But I can’t see, if I do not follow the spinners of fear,  David, why we are damned this way or the other.

Feeling European and being a German citizen I think it is important to respect the vote, to respect everybody who doesn’t wish to be part of the EU. However, if it is very much about more capitalism as a nationalist project, if it is about ’stopping immigrants’, if it is about shameless lying as the campaigning shows so vividly, then, me, being a German immigrant in the UK, feels very bad, and indeed thinks that the UK after Brexit is not the open culture I fell in love with when I did my Phd in the late 1990s.

I was in Germany at the time just before and after the actual vote. And I have to say,  the amount of detailed (and controversial) information about the Brexit situation was exceptional, whereas in Britain nobody was feeling that they had enough information …

I also think, that the youth has been betrayed by the vote. Having said that, social media, so popular nowadays, hasn’t helped to politicise the campaign amongst the young voters. Only about 35% of the younger voters actually voted.

Best Michael Schillmeier

RS: Much of the reporting is so choked with emotion, inventing mangles like “ironicidal”, “unserious” and resorting to curses, it is difficult to make sense of British journalism.  One piece by Jonathan Freedland gives a sense of the struggle within British elites.

…A week after the vote: The Brexit crisis has driven the pound down below $1.30 to levels last seen in 1985.  Sterling hit a new 31-year low against the dollar.  Last time the pound was lower was in June 1985, but still off the record low of $1.0520 in March 1985.

 

Review: Between Urban Topographies and Political Spaces

Alexis Nuselovici, Mauro Ponzi and Fabio Vighi (Eds), Between Urban Topographies and Political Spaces, Lanham, MD/ UK: Lexington Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-0739188354. Price: $80.00/ £50.30/ €73.59

This book’s aim is to contribute new spatial concepts in order to better conceptualize place (p.ix), the contemporary understanding of which has witnessed an “epistemological break” (p. vii). The editors maintain that it is crucial to search for new spatial categories in order “to describe phenomena specific to our contemporary world” (p.vii). Therefore, the research questions that inform this publication could be understood as follows: What roles do boundaries play in the context of globalization, and how do these roles transform our idea of space?

In the Introduction, it is stated that the main idea holding all its fourteen chapters together is that of ‘threshold’, a notion which can be further celebrated when approached in its multiplicity when referred to in different European languages (‘threshold’ (ENG), ‘seuil’ (FR), ‘soglia’ (IT), ‘Schwelle’ (DE)). The celebration of multiplicity in order to approach the notion of threshold, abolishing the frontiers between languages — perceiving variety as enriching, allows a better understanding of the notion — follows the scientific goal of the book: to distinguish threshold from border and frontier (p.viii) and, going even further, to replace boundaries with thresholds (p.ix). This approach to the notion of threshold, is actually extended to the approach to the topic itself (contemporary issues of spatiality). The book is multidisciplinary, cutting across disciplines, something that the editors feel that it is urgent to do, in order to overcome “the current institutional rigidity” that “does not reflect the transformations that are taking place within the human sciences”. (p.ix)

In order to both conceptualize and contextualize the book, the editors reference Michel Foucault (1926-1984), hoping the book contributes to the “spatial turn” that the philosopher predicted (ie. that at some point the spatial paradigm had to be put in relation with history (“Des Espace Autres”, 1967)), and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the theorist who inspired both the books’ focus on urban spaces and its structure: Thresholds (city), Spaces in-between (metropolis) and Heterotopias (post-metropolis). (p.ix)

The chapters’ sequencing is challenging due to the multidisciplinary character of the book. The first part is more traditional, approaching threshold in a more conservative way, where it is still possible to recognize the boundaries of topics. In the second part, the focus is predominantly urban, assuming a Benjaminian approach which blurs the topic’s boundaries. The third part intertwines different topics and references, making it almost impossible to distinguish any boundaries whatsoever, approaching the expression of threshold found in religion and myth.

German philosopher Bernhard Waldenfelds begins the book with “Threshold Experiences”. His work is a crucial reference for anyone interested in the subject of space in general, and in the question of borders, limits and thresholds in particular. Having developed his work consistently since the 1980s, and referencing Husserl, Schütz and other phenomenologists, he has published several key books on the subject. Waldenfeld’s extensive contribution to the subject of borders is in itself reason to read this book.

As the reader progresses, the book feels uneven. We are cautioned, in the Introduction about the approach being multidisciplinary (and in fact, there are chapters that focus on film, literature, urban studies, psychoanalysis, politics, economics and music) but the unevenness arises from a lack of clarity. There are chapters that present ideas very clearly while others are blurry and never seem to deliver their intent. Rather these “blurred” chapters occur as excessive attempts to address specific ideas.

Perhaps the book’s unevenness, and the blurriness of some contributor’s chapters, is intentional, influenced by a somewhat Deleuzian logic, where the book, or a chapter, is conceived as a web, similar to an open-system, instead of being a sequential, narrative, closed body of work. The lack of boundaries among chapters, and in some cases, within chapters, was taken too far. Boundaries were sacrificed in the name of delivering a sense of fluidity between all authors, and all disciplines, where each chapter communicates with all other chapters. This fluidity may then have resulted in a kind of frailty. Perhaps such frailty is inevitable. The notion of space is a recent research field following centuries in which “time” took centre stage. New fields of research do not emerge without their perils.. Perhaps space, though a classic concept, truly is a contemporary challenge that tests the boundaries of institutionally established disciplines in human sciences.

Though the subject of space is currently wide-ranging it is expected that in the next few years that “space” will continue to grow as a research subject. Contributors of this book repeatedly, reference: Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996). These references might give an idea of the specific approach the book takes on the subject as well as the area it covers.

In sum, the book does present a varied and original approach on the subject of space and that is much needed. The editors deserve recognition for advancing the study of “space” as an inderdisciplinary topic within human sciences. The extent to which the book is uniformly coherent is difficult to articulate, but that may not be the editors’ goal. Certainly, the book does deliver some excellent contributions, such as the Félix Duque and Ellettra Stimilli chapters on “The European Membrane” and “The Threshold between Debt and Guilt”, respectively.

-Diana Soeiro, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

(NOVA Institute of Philosophy (IFILNOVA), Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas — Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCSH-UNL), Avenida de Berna, 26, 4º piso, 1069-061 Lisboa, Portugal. Email: diana.soeiro@fcsh.unl.pt or dianasoeiro.drphil@gmail.com ) Edited by D. Gillespie.

Museum Gallery Spaces

art-agenda has a thematic examination of gallery spaces online every two months, with the current feature being underground spaces.

Vienna Sezesion

Not so underground… Vienna Sezesion CC-NC 2014 Rob Shields

Barbara Sirieix notes that underground galleries include purpose built spaces such as the Städel Museum in Frankfurt as well as parking garages and appropriated and converted basement spaces where many artists also work because of economic considerations.  These spaces often become part of artworks and installations.

-Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Does anyone care when a Russian rocket crashes in the Arctic?

Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, does anyone care when a rocket crashes in the Arctic?

Russia plans to ditch a launch stage of a satellite rocket into the North Water Polynya on Saturday June 4 violate both state sovereignty and the integrity of Inuit residents who depend on the resources of this environmentally-sensitive area for their livelihoods. North Water, a 19th century whaling name for the sea area between Greenland and Ellesmere Island in the northern reaches of Baffin Bay, is kept open by wind and currents year round. A rich fishing area, currents take any pollutants south along Devon Island into Lancaster Sound.

North Water map - Pew Trusts
North Water (Courtesy Pew Trusts)

The assumption appears to be that this is not only an “empty” wilderness but a no-man’s-land, terra nullis. Worse is the assumption that no one and nothing will be damaged, and that no one cares. This is what I have called a reduction of the ecosystem to “Bare Nature”, ethically without value and consequences to which we have a reigning “non-relation”/ Although the hydrazine fuel degrades, it is toxic.

“If Canada was launching a rocket and some of it was going to be landing in the Russian Federation,. you can imagine what kind of reaction we’d have there. The Government of Canada should be defending out territorial integrity” (Paul Crowley, World Wildlife Fund Arctic Program quoted in The Globe and Mail Sat. 4 June 2016 p. A14).

Rape by rocket, however, is indicative of the attitudes of non-residents, ‘southerners’, to the Arctic. The region has been treated as an inconsequential ‘sink’ for global pollution and a margin of global disrespect for the environment. This is in part a counterpart to the romantic attitudes toward the Arctic that developed in the 19th century period of European imperialism and a search for a Northwest Passage from Atlantic to Pacific — Baffin Strait to the Bering Sea.

A further irony is that the Arctic is so poorly served by communications, satellite programs notwithstanding. This summer will see further increased in shipping through the Northwest Passage. Many countries regard this as international waters despite its proximity to the northern coastline of mainland Canada. The result may become a free-for-all, as commercial interests including fishing begin to access these waters during ice-free summer months despite the lack of navigational aids. There is almost no search and rescue capacity, which is a risk to the rising numbers of tourist cruises, now carrying tens of thousands annually.

This contradictory spatialisation in which the Arctic is exoticised as an adventure margin for tourists while being relegated to the null status of a nowher aof blankness, absence and emptiness is a serious flaw in the spatialisation of the globe as a context for human action and activity. Both positions do not truly engage with the concrete reality of the North but indulge in an abstract metropolitan imaginary in which the region virtually becomes a kind of non-place. Rockets are dumped in regions not out of necessity but because they are thought to be empty in the ideological understandings of ill-informed people whose parochial geographies and politics leads the world to crisis.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Tax Havens-R-Us: Digital non-geographies and the financial gaming of distance and difference

In today’s world of off-shore tax havens,i quantitative easing,ii high frequency trading,iii and rampant global asset and real estate speculation it seems that a sort of gamified monetary space-race is going on and that it’s advancing with increasing speed. This monetary space-race game is one that is partially defined by both off-shoring and “on-shoring,” by both making assets disappear behind the legal shrouds provided by nation states that profit by providing secrecy to wealthy international clients and conglomerates, and by making virtual assets material in the form of, for example, international real-estate speculation.

But this immaterial/material financial binary is not adequate if we are to identify more comprehensively the space and spaces – the game dynamics – being put to work in service of global finance capital. For example, as but one expression of this monetary space-race, the recent tax haven scandals surrounding Panama’s Mossack Fonseca (which after two weeks of headlines is barely discussed anymore) is not so much about securing or profiting from locating capital in distant geographical spaces – tax-free islands, sandy beaches, and sun-drenched shell-company postal boxes, as it is about taking advantage of new and emerging forms of: 1) interstitial temporal spaces; 2) immaterial or undetectable digital spaces; and / or 3) invisible spaces that, as far as the public is aware, simply do not exist. That is, despite superficial appearances, the new monetary space-race is less about physically off-shoring capital and currency, than it is about staying ahead of the embittered and comparatively impoverished masses and the increasingly indebted governments ever more desperate for funds by hiding, or making invisible, digital money that’s been stored in “the cloud,” on the internet, or on an array of hard-drives. In other words, generating financial distance between wealth and the tax-hungry governments who would love access to it is not achieved through the separation offered by geographical space, but through the creation of new spaces, non-spaces, unknowable spaces that may or may not be physically located in a data-centre or business park next to you in Canada, London, New York,iv or Delaware.v

Continue reading Tax Havens-R-Us: Digital non-geographies and the financial gaming of distance and difference

Tax Haven Financescapes: an elite spatialisation?

A layered global spatialization divides the world not just into haves and have-nots, but between a tax-avoiding elite that operate in the flows of a worldwide financescape of tax havens and economic free trade zones and “the rest” bound by taxes in outflanked territorial states.

The geography of the space of flows is distinguished by island tax havens: in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, The Seychelles, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man for which Switzerland and its banks may be a global command and control centre.

The geography of offshore tax havens reflects the spirits of hoarding, self-enrichment, expropriation and mean-spiritedness. The leak of Mossack Fonseca’s archive via the ICIJ International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the US Centre for Public Integrity, reveals the identity of individuals and families that have cached away wealth to avoid taxation by national governments. As The Guardian put it today,

what has broken out of the vaults of the offshore legal specialists is “the sense that normal rules do not apply to the global elite. In a new gilded age, taxes would – once again – appear to be for the little people…. Slowly but surely… the world has learned that the banks that busted the global economy were also consumed with … rigging rates, ripping off customers and laundering Mexican drug money.” It reveals the “tax-dodging lengths that private wealth will go to in order to keep public coffers empty.”

The amount avoided in taxes would solve many countries budget deficits. Budget deficits are debts piled on to our children by tax avoiders.  The temporal aspects, in which money made in the past is inherited tax free in the present, taxes not paid in the present then lead to debt by others in the future, make this a distinct topology.  Its like the elite and the rest live on different financial planes.  These two worlds, two planetary financescapes, have points of intersection but otherwise conceived as independent.   The reality however is that the elite are living in a virtual reality, of course, and usually find out to their cost that they are dependent on the acquiescence of the many to this situation.  Social consent can easily by withdrawn.

Protests in Iceland at the revelations in the Panama Papers (Daily Mail Online 4 Apr. 2016)
Protests in Iceland at the revelations in the Panama Papers (Daily Mail Online 4 Apr. 2016)

daily mail iceland protest 32D82CAF00000578-0-image-a-10_1459798826336

Countries less able to monitor financial industries and collect taxes are particularly vulnerable, as the map create by Offshore Net  suggests.  USD21 trillion was their 2010 estimate.

Offshore wealth flows (Map: OffshoreNet.com)
Offshore wealth flows (Map: OffshoreNet.com)

A study of the American top 100 publicly traded companies by U.S.PIRG, as measured by revenue, shows 82 maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Collectively, the companies report holding nearly $1.2 trillion offshore, with 15 accounting for two-thirds of this (see diagram).

“When corporations use tax havens to dodge the taxes they owe, the rest of us pay the price, either through higher taxes, cuts to important programs, or a bigger deficit,” said Dan Smith, U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Advocate and report author. “It also puts small businesses without expensive tax attorneys at a big competitive disadvantage” (Offshore Shell Games).

To these sites, one can add free trade economic zones that are tax free so that companies are not taxed on the value added to products in these zones that are way-points between producers and consumers.  Olivier provides one of the always excellent maps from the Le Monde Diplomatique archived on World Resources SIM Centre:

Tax Havens and Free Trade Zones (Le Monde Diplomatique 2000)
Tax Havens and Free Trade Zones (Le Monde Diplomatique 2000)

-Rob Shields (University of  Alberta)

 

John Urry in memoriam

John Urry, a pioneer of the spatial turn and one of Space and Culture‘s first board members, has passed away.  The Sociology Department at Lancaster has posted an obituary. This is a true loss.  John shifted the direction of British sociological thought more that once – pioneering place-based investigations, the turn to culture and to space with iconic works such as The Tourist Gaze.  He was prolific and a generous editor, collaborator and co-author.  His later work courageously assesses a future After the Car and pushed social science to move beyond the limits of the nation state in Sociology Beyond the State.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)