Spatialisation and Topology: A few items read in 2019

For spatialization and topology fans, a few relevant articles I came across in the last year.

Animating the urban: an ethological and geographical conversation

Langur monkeys raid rubbish bins

Urban animals and their political ecologies constitute an arena of geographical scholarship that has intensified in recent years. Yet, little headway has been made in terms of understanding how sentient creatures inhabit and negotiate dynamic, metabolic environments. Focusing on urban macaques in Indian cities, the paper develops a conversation between geography and ethology. Firstly, the conversation provides insights into what urbanisation might entail for animals. Secondly, it assays ways in which non-human knowledges enable rethinking what expertise counts in urban governance. Thirdly, the conversation foregrounds other spatial topologies of the urban that become evident when animals’ lifeworlds are taken into account. The paper advances efforts to animate urban political ecology in registers yet inattentive to non-human lifeworlds. It concludes by reflecting upon the purchase of such etho-geographical conversations generate for political ecologies of urbanisation.

Barua, M., & Sinha, A. (2019). Animating the urban: An ethological and geographical conversation. Social & Cultural Geography, 20(8), 1160–1180. https://doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2017.1409908

A Scapelore Manifesto: Creative Geographical Practice in a Mythless Age

Marmor by Cossimo Galluzi

One role of geographers is giving meaning to places and landscapes. This is in contrast to the assumption that geography is about interpretation of others’ place-making and meaning-giving activities that shape the surface of the earth. A look into the constitution of meaning shows that meaning is layered onto places from a variety of sources. By doing geography, one can synthesize the plethora of produced scientific and cultural-historical information. In the case of doing what I call a Scapelore, the geographer’s role is to breathe life into landscapes—not only to interpret, but to boldly give meaning, enchanting and creatively mythologizing the world’s surface. To write a Scapelore one must be comfortable with factual description, but a Scapelorist must also add a poetics that is definitively his or her own. There is no pretend to objectivity in giving meaning to places and landscapes, nor a pretense that only one interpretation is available; Scapelore is firmly rooted in the postmodern. The rationale for this treatise is threefold: Scapelores (1) make visible the invisibilities in relational ontologies, (2) transform the vernacular into the spectacular, and (3) bring the local out of Romanticism, where it is trapped. There must be a place in society for nonfictional meaning makers, people who tell us what places are and why we should care about them. This opens our eyes to the world we live in, and engages us personally with our own quotidian landscapes so that when we make collective, democratic decisions, we make good ones.

Bauch, N. (2015). A Scapelore Manifesto: Creative Geographical Practice in a Mythless Age. GeoHumanities, 1(1), 103–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2015.1069716

Cuts, flows, and the geographies of property

Mr Davidson (left), a surveyor, with companions Mayton and Watson at Swansea in 1859

How is property geographical? The making of liberal property, I argue, relies upon a topographical logic, premised on the production of bounded, coherent spaces, through which the individuated subjects and objects of property can be rendered legible. Such a spatialization helps sustain the territorialization of property, in which the government of space becomes a means for the enactment of property. The production of such spaces requires conscious “cuts” in the processual networks through which social spaces are produced. As such, property should be seen as a conditional achievement, ever threatened by unwanted relationality and boundary crossing. I draw from Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River to explore property’s spaces, and their ambivalent ethical and practical work.

Blomley, N. (n.d.). Cuts, flows, and the geographies of property. Law, Culture and the Humanities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1743872109355583

Survivor Trees: Spectrality and Stickiness

Survivor Tree (pyrus calleryana) blooming at ground zero

Survivor trees are those which have survived disasters. They are often the only things left following the destruction of buildings by earthquakes, tsunamis, atomic blasts, and bombings. Survivor trees are located within the discourses of architecture and landscape architecture. This paper focuses particularly on the affectiveness of trees, their generation of emotions, and their propagation of atmosphere. Survivor trees at sites such as 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, and the Japanese tsunami become affectively “sticky,” as places of emotional intensification with traces of the spectral. Haunting and affect theory are closely entwined, and both tune into the often invisible pulses that activate elements of the landscape. Both are entwined with the extraordinary and the supernatural, with heightened feelings, shivers and shimmers. This intensity of affect and haunting generates an affective atmosphere, that elusive aura which permeates places and moments with special feeling. Affective atmospheres suffuse us with intangible emotional presence; with survivor trees, this brings a strange familiarity, an uncanniness. The names given to survivor trees, such as “witness” or “seeing,” emphasise this haunting, affective resonance. Negative emotions and associations stick to survivor trees as well, including the trees who refuse to completely die – the zombie trees, whose haunting becomes something sinister.

Bowring, J. (2019). Survivor Trees: Spectrality and Stickiness. Fabrications, 29(1), 21–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/10331867.2018.1540081

Animal places: Lively cartographies of human-animal relations

Adventurer’s Guild by Neytirix

Nonhuman animals are ubiquitous to our “human” societies. Interdisciplinary human/animal research has – for 50 years – drawn attention to how animals are ever-present in what we think of as human spaces and cultures. Our societies are built with animals and through all kinds of multispecies interactions. From public spaces and laboratories to homes, farms and in the “wilderness”; human and nonhuman animals meet to make space and place together, through webs of power relations. However, the very spaces of these interactions are not mute or passive themselves. The spaces where species meet matter, and shape human/animal relations. This book takes as its starting point the relationship between place and human/animal interaction. It brings together the work of leading scholars in human/animal studies, from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds. With a distinct focus on place, physical space and biocultural geography, the authors of this volume consider the ways in which space, human and nonhuman animals co-constitute each other, how they make spaces together, produce meaning around them, struggle over access, how these places are storied and how stories of spaces matter.

Bull, J., Holmberg, T., & Åsberg, C. (Eds.). (2018). Animal places: Lively cartographies of human-animal relations. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14649365.2017.1409908

A right to the city? Virtual networks and ephemeral centralities for lesbians in Paris

Le Monocle in Montmartre

A large body of literature, mostly in English, now documents male homosexuals’ ability to appropriate parts of the city to gain both urban and social visibility. Conversely, most work on lesbians points at their relative invisibility. This article looks at places that, since the 70s, have been opened for parties and outings for lesbians. Though these may be few in number and frequently instable, a degree of social and online networking establishes other geographies for lesbians’ “right to the city”. Though invisible to mainstream society, they testify to lesbians’ ability to overcome spatial injustice.

Cattan, N., & Clerval, A. (2011). A right to the city? Virtual networks and ephemeral centralities for lesbians in Paris. Paris: Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, UMR LAVUE 7218, Laboratoire Mosaïques,. Retrieved from https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01525375

How far can Foucault take us? An analysis of the changing discourses and limitations of the medical treatment of apoplexy and stroke

The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins 1889

This article examines the conditions under which epistemological shifts in medicine have shaped the history of apoplexy and stroke. Our intention is to understand how stroke medicine as a distinct branch of bio-medicine has emerged in its current form. In doing so, we draw on aspects of the work of Michel Foucault as they relate to fabrication of biomedical discourses. The past 300 years of the transformation of the condition is examined using Michel Foucault‚’s analysis of medical history as instances of the changing spatialization of disease. While the adoption of this approach helped explain how medical practice was shaped by changing interpretations of the causes of apoplexy and stroke over the past few centuries, we also found that there were certain limitations to such an approach. Overall, however, we hope to show that an examination of the history of stroke medicine through a Foucauldian influenced lens can provide a useful understanding of its current circumstances as well as throw light on gaps in Foucauldian approaches themselves.

Daneski, K., Higgs, P., & Morgan, M. (n.d.). How far can Foucault take us? An analysis of the changing discourses and limitations of the medical treatment of apoplexy and stroke. Health: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363459310367439

Topologies of tourism enclaves

“Hey, do you know where this is?” by Namendart

Research on tourism enclaves has relied mainly on topographical understandings of the phenomenon. The focus has been on the ontic, that which is or exists instead of the relational qualities or properties of tourism enclaves. Topographical conceptions thus tend to simplify enclavic processes and attributes that are much more complex than meets the eye. In this article, we make the case for topological understandings of tourism enclaves, based on a relational ontology, as a complement. We thereby strive to offer more nuanced conceptions of tourism enclaves. We depart from Agamben’s political ontology to illustrate our claim. Seen topologically, tourism enclaves are not simply spaces marked-off from the norm, but rather constituents of the norm. Tourism enclaves need to be theorized as ‘prototypes’ or ‘laboratories’ of new subjectivities (ways of being, relating, and experiencing the world). The tourist thus emerges as a model figure of biopolitics in the contemporary, the norm rather than the exception. The tourist is not that which is abandoned by the sovereign in the manner of Agamben, but rather a free exilant, a subject that self-willingly chooses abandonment. We deploy topological concepts, like Agamben’s the ban, the camp, and state of exception. Such a conception, we argue, widens the ontological register or horizon of tourism theory.

Ek, R., & Tesfahuney, M. (2019). Topologies of tourism enclaves. Tourism Geographies, 21(5), 864–880. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2019.1663910

Urban topologies of epistemic change: The zoo and the heterotopia of the map

Zurich Zoo

By tracing the history of maps of the Zurich Zoo since its inception in 1929, I enquire how ideas about human-animal relations in an urban context have changed. Linking Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia with the ordering power of space allows to see that a map does more than show the way to one’s favourite animals in a zoo. I suggest that the map can be understood as a necessary element in creating a heterotopia, an ‘other space’’, contributing more to visitors’ ideas about the zoo than generally assumed. Underlying the Foucauldian concept are endeavours to juxtapose several incompatible emplacements in one real place. These can be understood as efforts to accomplish an illusion that allows to reify the respective model of the zoo that each map pretends to illustrate. The maps aim to create an apparent ecology of proximities between animals and humans, and between the urban and the wild. All in all, the maps offer both a layout for human-animal relations and an instructive account of them, as depicted and imagined by the zoo authorities.

Gisler, P. (2019). Urban topologies of epistemic change: The zoo and the heterotopia of the map. Contemporary Social Science, 0(0), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/21582041.2019.1667522

Spatializing Stratification: Bogotá

This article presents the socio-economic stratification in Bogotá, Colombia, and discusses the socio-spatial elements of its constitution and development. The spatial classification of blocks and neighbourhoods based on services, amenities and building qualities in Bogotá, produces a surrogate spatialization of economic divisions. It maps, classifies and excludes but is also appropriated and contested as a hierarchical, sociocultural spatialization of residents. Taken up in the civic culture, strata has become a pattern of identification, stereotypes and discrimination that normatively striates the citizenship of Bogotanos identifying who should and should not go where.

Guevara, J., & Shields, R. (2019). Spatializing Stratification: Bogotá | Ardeth. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from http://ojs.lexis.srl/index.php/ardeth/article/view/121

Henry James, Cartographer: Charting the Hologram of Venice in Italian Hours

Henry James

The focus of this article is on the Venetian essays of Henry James’s travelogue Italian Hours. Although critics of James, as well as the writer himself, have relegated his travel writings to the margins of his canon, this article reconsiders James’s travel writing as a literary cartography, a primary site in which the author is actively theorizing his concept of the “direct, artistic impression.” A central argument is that the Jamesian impression is structurally and functionally similar to a hologram, a three-dimensional, extrarepresentational form that affords James’s map of Venice its unique ability to capture fleeting moments, point-of-contact experience, and the immediacy of wonder. A rhizomatic organizing pattern allows James’s literary cartography to function as a true hologram and enables the text to chart impressionist potentialities of Venice rather than geographic certainties, favoring obscurity over cartographic clarity. Subverting traditional cartographic practice of the nineteenth century, James’s map of Venice defamiliarizes landmarks, disorients the reader, and converts known space back into an ill-defined state. A geocritical approach allows the Jamesian impression to be read as both an observed state of wonder and a self-expressive textual subject, a performance of a new space rather than a representation of one known. Thus, James’s impressions are not static representations of place but rather emergent processes, allowing the travelogues to be read as a type of critical human geography where the boundaries between material space and acts of representation are blurred.

Holmes, L. (2019). Henry James, Cartographer: Charting the Hologram of Venice in Italian Hours. GeoHumanities, 5(1), 178–194. https://doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2019.1578621

The moment to come: Geographies of hope in the hyperprecarious sites of occupied Palestine

Palestine Flag by Rawan Nassrallah

In this article we sketch out a geography of hope in Palestine. We focus on ‘hyperprecarious’ sites, exactly those where exposure to harm is heightened and where thus reasons not to hope seem plentiful. Focusing on fieldwork at such sites, we examine hope as a temporal practice of waiting, attending especially to how a ‘moment to come’ (kairos) constitutes and affirms anti-colonial practices and topologies of everyday Palestinian life. Hope in the cases we discuss is not simply a positive orientation to the future, but an experience of kairo-logical time that ties hopeful waiting to topo-logical practices that disrupt the space-times of the Israeli occupation, and the horizon of hopelessness it creates for Palestinians. We propose that attending to kairos and topos can therefore reveal the ways that together they can operate as conditions of possibility, as a ‘moment’ and ‘place’, for time-spaces to come forth anew, and so as structuring conditions for everyday Palestinian hope for life that is irreducible to the systematic subjugation and violence of the occupation.

Joronen, M., & Griffiths, M. (2019). The moment to come: Geographies of hope in the hyperprecarious sites of occupied Palestine. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 101(2), 69–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/04353684.2019.1569473

Corporeal Virtuality: The Impossibility of a Fleshless Ontology

iCity by Inward

Critical and popular discussions of virtual reality and cyberspace increasingly deny the corporeality of these technological ensembles, positioning them as new media of disembodiment. Well-known cyberspace figure Jaron Lanier claims: “[cyberspace] is just an open world where your mind is the only limitation” (Woolley, 1992:14); cyber-theorist Michael Heim suggests “in cyberspace minds are connected to minds, existing in perfect concord without the limitations or necessities of the physical body” (Heim, 1993:34); John Perry Barlow hyperbolises “it’s like having had your everything amputated” (Barlow, 1990:42). This discourse of disembodiment is manifest most extremely in Gibsonian representations of cyberspace, where embodiment is vilified as an unfortunate and flawed barrier against achieving – as Vicki Kirby suggests – a post-corporeal subjectivity configured in purely informatic and immaterial terms (Kirby, 1997:135). Gibsonian cyberspace refers to that defined by cyberpunk novelist William Gibson, specifically in his novel Neuromancer (1984). In his coining of the term, Gibson describes it as a “consensual hallucination” experienced by billions of disembodied computer operators (Gibson, 1984:51). While Gibson’s work is clearly science fiction, his concepts have influenced computer and information systems design, and characterise the exaggerated claims made about cyberspace in both popular and critical discourse. The most significant aspect of Gibsonian cyberspace, in relation to our own argument, is its representation of the possibilities of disembodiment facilitated by virtual systems, to the extent that the mind is seen as pure data able to leave the body behind. Within this hierarchical framework the body exists as a lower-order mechanism, `the meat’, which is distinguished from an ontologically superior and potentially autonomous mind. In particular, we are concerned with the underlying implication that the corporeal is non-necessary. Many of the actual technologies supposedly facilitating this disembodied condition do not yet exist, but this has done little to discourage hopeful renditions of the fleshless ontology of cyberspace, highlighting the recursive relation between science fiction and techno-criticis

Richardson, I., & Harper, C. (n.d.). Corporeal Virtuality: The Impossibility of a Fleshless Ontology. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from http://people.brunel.ac.uk/bst/2no2/Papers/Ingrid%20Richardson&Carly%20Harper.htm

The knowledge of knots: An interdisciplinary literature review

Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot by Jean-Simon Berthèlemy

Knots can be found and used in a variety of situations in the 3D world, such as in vines, in the DNA, polymer chains, electrical wires, in mountaineering, seamanship and when ropes or other flexible objects are involved for exerting forces and holding objects in place. Research on knots as topological entities has contributed with a number of findings, not only of interest to pure mathematics, but also to statistical mechanics, quantum physics, genetics, and chemistry. Yet, the cognitive (or algorithmic) aspects involved in the act of tying a knot are a largely uncharted territory. This paper presents a review of the literature related to the investigation of knots from the topological, physical, cognitive and computational (including robotics) standpoints, aiming at bridging the gap between pure mathematical work on knot theory and macroscopic physical knots, with an eye to applications and modeling.

Santos, P. E., Cabalar, P., & Casati, R. (2019). The knowledge of knots: An interdisciplinary literature review. Spatial Cognition & Computation, 19(4), 334–358. https://doi.org/10.1080/13875868.2019.1667998

Apocalyptic Imaginaries, Gramsci, and the Last Man on Earth

The End of Civilization by Alexis Levinski

Spatial imaginaries of the apocalypse are as commonplace as ever. Whereas many geographers have critiqued them as politically disabling and categorized them with the rise of postpolitical discourse, others have argued that they are potentially generative of new, progressive forms of politics. In this article I contribute to this discussion through a Gramscian reading of the apocalyptic imaginary of “the last man on Earth” as encapsulated in the novel I Am Legend (Matheson [1954] 1995) and its three filmic adaptations, The Last Man on Earth (Ragona and Salkow 1964), The Omega Man (Sagal 1971), and I Am Legend (Lawrence 2007). Gramsci is useful here for his analytical method of situating political expression within the historical structure that enables and constrains it. Likewise, how the end of the world is imagined is not strictly something that politicizes or depoliticizes, but can also be seen as an effect of the established social order. I argue that this can be discerned both in terms of how the book and films are situated historically, and in terms of how they portray violent civilizational upheaval as a function of its own past. The meaning of the term legend, and its dialectical relationship with the conjunctural moment of the apocalypse changes drastically across all four iterations of the narrative.

Schlosser, K. (2015). Apocalyptic Imaginaries, Gramsci, and the Last Man on Earth. GeoHumanities, 1(2), 307–320. https://doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2015.1096749

Inertia and Movement: The Spatialization of the Native Northland in Jack London’s Short Stories

Serenity by Alena Aenami

As an epistemic part of the American West, the Yukon territory or “Northland” is often depicted as a monolithic region: a “last frontier” integrated in a stable national framework attained through the manifest destiny of Anglo-Saxon culture to enlighten a supposedly uncivilized space of cultural and racial otherness. In this article, I argue that Jack London’s short stories “An Odyssey of the North” and “The Law of Life” demonstrate the elusiveness of such unequivocal interpretations of the North as a European-American space. In London’s diverse and often contradictory oeuvre, one finds not one master narrative transplanted into uncultivated or “exotic” spaces, but in fact manifold variants of both actual and fictional geographies that energize alternative spatial understandings and practices. Although the issues and challenges brought to light in London’s fiction have surfaced during the Progressive Era, they still constitute crucial aspects of ongoing processes of coexistence, reconciliation, and conflict among different narratives and voices that claim to represent or know what “makes” the American West. The significance of space for native cultures and the role of Anglo-Saxon “blond beasts” in the Yukon together constitute a variegated discursive pattern, the frictions and interactions of which are at the heart of popular and scholarly discourses that affect not only the American self-concept but also ongoing efforts to understand spatiality as a matter of interdisciplinary significance in the humanities.

Wöll, S. (2017). Inertia and Movement: The Spatialization of the Native Northland in Jack London’s Short Stories. GeoHumanities, 3(1), 65–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2017.1289821