Monthly Archives: December 2014

Bare Nature – Industrial Development and Ontological Destruction

Bare Nature
Bare Nature  Photo copyright Andriko Lozowy 2007

What are the theoretical and practical connections that exist between genocide and ecocide? Both terms indicate processes involved in the systematic and rational destruction of particular ways of being-in-the-world. While the physical destruction of bodies and ecologies is starkly visible (think of the piles of bodies at Auschwitz or aerial photos of the Tar Sands) these processes seek to penetrate and to annihilate the essence of life more generally – ontological destruction (Woolford 2009). The violence enacted upon different people and spaces has a lot to do with their relation to the sovereign power of the state – or in the case of ecocidal developments, their relation to multinational corporations that governments so often cater to and collaborate with. In Canada this is evidenced in the way that indigenous people have been displaced from the land, migrant workers are granted temporary status to fill labour demands, and corporations are given huge subsidies.

Genocide and ecocide are not aberrant social phenomena, nor are they carried out by inherently evil people; rather, they exemplify the destructive potential internal to modernity itself and illustrate the human capacity for psychological justification (Martin and Short 2014). Both genocidal action and ecological destruction are implicitly legitimated through public discourses of rational self-interest (jobs, national purity) and through the technological triumphalism that accompanies new capacities for extraction. The outcome of genocidal systems is not just death, but the production of ‘bare life’ – in which apparently ‘living’ bodies are turned into mere husks from which the divine spark of life has been extinguished (Agamben 1998). A similar ontological destruction is also evidenced in the evisceration of vast tracts of nature at a scale heretofore unprecedented in the history of human civilization – the production of ‘bare nature’ (Shields 2012). The connection between the ontological destruction of land and people is all too clear for many indigenous peoples for whom there is no distinction, linguistic or ontological, between people and the land, as both are connected to the same source of creation (Coulthard 2014).

As mass industrial developments like the Tar Sands continue, they require the creation of legal states of exception through zoning practices and legal-economic policies that render millions of acres of land violable bare nature. These projects are a continuation of historic dispossession and genocidal actions that have targeted indigenous peoples for cultural, spiritual and physical annihilation (Patzer 2014). The impact of these colossal developments also contribute to increasingly frequent climate catastrophes that regularly displace tens of thousands of people. As Canada does not recognize the ‘climate refugee’ as a valid legal category, neither does it assume no responsibility for its role in the production of bare life (Walia 2013). The ontological connection between bare life and bare nature characterizes the increasingly pervasive threshold spaces where cultural and natural objects, human and other-than- human subjects are all positioned in precarious relation to each other (Chakrabarty 2009).

Dr. Jobb Arnold is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Affect Project at the University of Manitoba (affectproject.ca).

References

Agamben, Giorgio.  Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Bauman, Zygmunt.  Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh.  “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009): 197-222.

Coulthard, Glen. “From ‘Wards of the State’ to Subjects of Recognition?” pp. 56-99, in Andrea Smith and Audra Simpson (eds.), Theorizing Native Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Crook, Martin and Damien Short. “Marx, Lemkin and the genocide–ecocide nexus.” The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 18, No. 3 ( 2014): 298-319.

Jeremy Patzer, “Residential School Harm and Colonial Dispossession: What’s the Connection?” pp. 166-189, in Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Hinton (Eds.) Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Rob Shields. “Feral suburbs: Cultural topologies of social reproduction, Fort McMurray, Canada.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. Vol. 15, No. 3, (2012): 205-215.

Harsha Walia. Undoing border imperialism. Oakland: AK Press, 2013.

Woolford, Andrew. “Ontological Destruction: Genocide and Canadian Aboriginal Peoples.” Genocide Studies and Prevention Vol. 4, No. 1 (2009): 81–97.

SMART Cities Timeline

SMART Cities Timeline
A Timeline of the development of the SMART City notion, key actors and events in propagating the idea. Rob Shields, Iwona Faferek CRSC University of Alberta Copyright 2014.

Information is data-in-formtion and can be transmitted and processed.  Knowledge, however, is still a uniquely human activity of working-up understanding, ‘getting the message’, meaning-making.  As such it requires social interaction in order to understand the codes, references and context of the information presented in any communication.  ‘Smart’ involves being able to work with knowledge and information together by selecting information and applying it in a context as knowledge and in relation to other knowledge, such as experience, ‘know-how’, ‘knowledge-of’, ‘knowledge-why’ and ‘knowing who’.  In addition, it involves trust, faith and affects such as determination, passion and pleasure.

The SMART city reduces these to the tech equivalent of the thermostat in your house and some wifi.  Comment if you have an example that disproves this.

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

Liveability and the Right to the City

 for the second year running, Australia’s political capital was named the best city in the world by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), a result that made northern hemisphere observers wonder if, down under, they were looking at the rankings upside down.

Canberra is a deathly place. It is a city conceived as a monument to the roundabout and the retail park, a bleak and relentless landscape of axial boulevards and manicured verges, dotted with puffed-up state buildings and gigantic shopping sheds.  (The Guardian 12 Dec. 2014)

“Liveability” and “liveable cities” do not have anything to do with the right the city, Lefebvre’s vision of cities as oeuvres or collective “works of art”.  The Guardian complains “The Economist Intelligence Unit puts Melbourne in first place, followed by Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, Adelaide and Calgary. There is never any mention, on any list, of London or New York, Paris or Hong Kong. There are no liveable cities where you might actually want to live. ”  This is a common complaint, for liveability means public spaces that are in practice new, untroubled by historical memory, and often-times actually private property “lawns” and fountains in front of office towers, “lobbies without walls” as Oliver Wainwright sums up.

“Liveability” is a dream of an urban communion in the consumption of public spaces as a collective good.  Public sidewalks are privatised as outdoor cafe spaces to enhance the spectacle of enjoyment.  But the resulting urban environments are not platforms for self-expression, collective memory or political voices.  Contra apostles of “new urbanism”, bodies do not assemble here but pass through in a pedestrian transit vision of public space and social order or they pay to stay.   The architects protest that they are powerless, just following orders of capitalist owners.  But this total vision suits the paternal order that sets these bodies in motion, atomised and probably texting, at the feet of monumental buildings.  In Wainwright’s article, Gehl is quoted saying “It’s good for democracy if people can meet each other on the street.”  But people are discouraged from any collective encounter in these streets.  In this sense, is “liveability” totalitarian?

Totalitarian: Lacking rights to redeveloped urban spaces, has there not been a new enclosure of the urban commons?  Totalitarian: what sets limits or counterbalances a version of liveability that privileges a professional class of well-heeled “Bobos” that are “bohemian” only in their own eyes?  As consumption goes online and is thus increasingly individualised or enclosed in the “telephone booth-sociability” of online tweets and comments, these unpublic spaces become a key ritual site of belonging for inhabitants of the cities of OECD.  It confers on some the rights to these spaces and excludes others that are not “properly” active economically, bodies that do not comply, are disabled or disordered.

As consumption goes online and is thus increasingly individualised or enclosed in the “telephone booth-sociability” of online tweets and comments, these unpublic spaces become a key ritual site of belonging for inhabitants of the cities of OECD.  However, Occupy and the revolutions of the second decade of this century demonstrate that it is in the moments of political ferment when these spaces are occupied by people that there is a self-recognition by the public as a public and as citizens.

How about a liveability index based on the total number of park benches — ideally “sleepable” benches — the absence of loitering rules, and the number of public events and demonstrations held annually?

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

This last term we have been re-reading Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the English translation and my own 1986 English précis published as a University of Sussex Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper.   We have rehearsed the critiques summarised in Spatial Questions and noted geography’s preference for applying rather than critically responding to Lefebvre’s unedited text.  Some great questions have emerged from our discussions, thinking with and from Lefebvre’s text.  What is the theory of the body implicit within this work?  Last week discussions linked up with Janine Muster’s Intermedia Research Studio exhibition on Alleyways.

Continue reading Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

Ecole Polytechnique Massacre of Women – 25 years on

Tate Britain Mural
Tate Britain Mural: This arresting mural in Tate Britain reminds us, on the 25th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings of female students in which 14 women died, of womens’ contributions to invention, innovation and creative progress.

The Massacre of Women at the Ecole Polytechnique Engineering Faculty in Montreal remains an iconic moment in time and a location that has become synonymous with violent anti-feminisms and the persecution of women.  It has eluded the grasp of Canadian politics and public spaces of concern: it prompted a national registration of firearms which was later repealed by the Conservative Party, leaving unresolved questions.  Ecole Polytechnique remains a touch-point and a memory site toward which numerous memorials point, from across Canada and abroad, invoking the problem of violence against women.  The school is a site where this unresolved national trauma become starkly present; it witnesses to the sexual colonization of womens’ bodies and points to the scars of violent anti-feminisms that split Canada’s immigrant cultures and fractures the collective psyche.

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

 

Kilmahew interior

Michael Granzow – Review Essay: Industrial Ruins and Ruination

Ruination has emerged as a fashionable concept in recent discussions of post-industrial decline. Whereas ruins refers to the actual material traces of a bygone era, ruination incorporates such traces with processes, experiences and perceptions that continue into the present. Recent studies of ruination tend to focus on modern ruins – those ruins that have emerged as part of relatively recent processes of deindustrialization and are most often associated with a capitalist mode of production. In this short review essay, I assess Alice Mah’s (2012) book Industrial Ruination, Community and Place. After an overview of the text, I briefly compare it with Tim Edensor’s (2005) influential work, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality. Continue reading Michael Granzow – Review Essay: Industrial Ruins and Ruination