All posts by Rob Shields

Poisoning places

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon draws attention to the effects of chemical weapons on places.  He writes in The Guardian about the March 2018 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter that affected many others:

What if the Salisbury attack had taken place in a mega city like Sydney? Let’s say for a start the Central Business District is cordoned and unusable for six months. Millions terrified to go into the city and a 35% reduction in business takings, with millions of tourists avoiding visiting.

The World Heritage site Stonehenge is a few miles from Salisbury, visited by millions each year, but most have been avoiding Salisbury. For Stonehenge, read the Opera House. Sydney very nearly saw a chemical attack last year when UK and Australian security services interdicted jihadists trying to use hydrogen sulphide as a weapon on crowds and jet aircraft.

Geographers and epidemiologists have considered “junctural zones” of contact with contagious diseases during the spread of epidemics.  However, the urban aspects of chemical weapons have not been well analyzed and their persistence (Novichok for example is highly persistent in the environment) has not been taken into account for the way that chemical weapons victimize and poison places as well as communities and individuals.  Introducing such toxins into a local environment weaponizes place against selected species.  Place or material objects are not just vectors but need to be understood as part of the lethal apparatus.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

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: yanlihe@scu.edu.cn and yanheli1111@163.com

Abstract Submissions to: yanlihe@scu.edu.cn and copy to yanheli1111@163.com and to spaceandculture.ku@gmail.com

Full Papers will be submitted via https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/sac

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 visibility2018@gmail.com. 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:  visibility2018@gmail.com

 

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.

References

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
Press.

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

References

Cvjeticanin, S. (n.d.). Manuel DeLanda – Biography. Retrieved from http://egs.edu/faculty/manuel-de-landa/

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 http://brightlightsfilm.com/whats-the-point-the-legendary-1971-animated-feature-on-dvd/

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

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)

Addendum

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

Review: Violence in Place. Cultural and Environmental Wounding

Kearney, A. (2017). Violence in place, cultural and environmental wounding. New York, NY: Routledge

Violence in Place, Cultural and Environmental Wounding takes on a specific type of human-generated trauma: cultural wounding. Cultural wounding is the intentional harm and violence (physical and symbolic) against members of a culture, as well as their way of life. It is enacted from a motivation to destroy or damage beyond repair the past, present, and future of a culture. In this volume, Kearney specifically locates cultural wounding in place, where place is a “relational co-presence envisioned as a vital shaping element in human life” (p. 1). Using this definition, place is imbued with its own agency and even sentience. In moments of trauma and cultural wounding, place is not just the setting; it is witness, participant, and victim. Indigenous epistemologies of place are said to demonstrate this hyper-relativist perspective, and Kearney sets out to argue that, in the wake of colonialism and neo-liberalism, a return to a kincentric ecology of place is necessary rectify the Western dualism of nature and humanity.

Generally, Kearney’s goal is to present a conception of cultural trauma that relies on the actions and interactions of humans and place. More specifically, Kearney provides accounts of 15 years of ethnographic study with an indigenous group in Australia, Yanyuwa, to show how colonization destroyed the kinship between people and place. She uses these observations to develop a phenomenological approach to diagnosing “patterns of place harm” in order to “recognize their presence in contexts all over the world and track back from this awareness to examine the axiologies that support not only cultural wounding, but also its greater effects as violence and trauma in place” (p. 95). To avoid criticisms of romanticism or anthropomorphizing, Kearney sets out to develop a methodology informed by indigenous epistemologies and decolonizing principles, acknowledging our inability to ‘listen’ outside of its relationship to humanity. Place has its own emotional geography that humans within place can relate to and read, and Kearney claims that trauma narratives told in place carry more weight and offer more opportunities for understanding across culture because of this emotional geography.

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Over the Land

An accompanying video to Phillip Vannini’s 2017 article in Space and Culture:  ‘These boardwalks were made for bushwalking: Disentangling grounds, surfaces, and walking experience’.   Video by April and Phillip Vannini (2015).

EMAC Ethnography.Media.Arts.Culture Network, is a group of students and scholars based at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., Canada. For more information, see: publicethnography.net

Phillip Vannini (Royal Roads University)

 

Topology of Denial

Climate Change, Declining Sea Ice, Extinction of Polar Bears

Topology of a Changing Climate: Evidence and Denial
The “space” of 2 intersecting issues: declining Arctic sea ice and the future of polar bears in climate change denying blogs and scientific papers (from Harvey et al in Bioscience (Nov 29 2017)).

 

Analysis of statements about the future of polar bears and declining Arctic sea ice reveals a polar contrast between climate change deniers’ blogs and evidence-based scientific reports.  This produces the hints of a manifold or topological space where the debate is both polarized around a left-right axis and features another line of flight (“will adapt”) that nonetheless remains within the 2 limiting dimensions of the graph of affirmation vs. denial.

Charts from Jeffrey A. Harvey Daphne van den Berg Jacintha Ellers Remko Kampen Thomas W. Crowther Peter Roessingh Bart Verheggen Rascha J. M. Nuijten Eric Post Stephan Lewandowsky Ian Stirling Meena Balgopal Steven C. Amstrup Michael E. Mann (2017). Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy. BioScience. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix133

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Canadian Utopianisms – Design from the 1967 centennial

Over the summer, Contemporary Gallery Calgary had a wonderful exhibition looking back 50 years to the futurism of late 60s designers who were commissioned to produce buildings for the Centennial of Canadian Confederation in 1967.  Architecture and National Identity: The Centennial Projects 50 Years On, curated by Marco Polo & Colin Ripley for Confederation Centre Art Gallery of Charlottetown is currently at Paul H. Cocker Gallery, 325 Church Street, Toronto until Nov. 10 2017.

C Gallery Calgary

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Spatial Machinations

A shoutout to Sam Kinsley’s site Spatial Machinations.  Its reach across contemporary theory and global issues more than fulfills it ambitious mandate to chronicle and catalogue how media produce temporalities and spatialities.  Recent discussions of affect theory and geography, American military visions of cities as dystopic are typically engrossing and on point.   However, taking the time to archive a missed event – I just picked up “Paramatta”, so inferred its not only past  but was far away (suburban Sydney Australia), gives us not only an echo of an event but flags important insights such as the declining rate of innovation.

A typical gem of a post is the 2009 A Vision – Simon Armitage’: which draws on Simon Armitage‘s Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid a lyrical contrast between a found architect’s rendering and a bleak-looking photo of Thamesmead, a huge Brutalist housing project in SE London.

Thamesmead was the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  There is little online in photographs that capture the social life of the development.  Thamesmead seems stuck in black and white 60s and 70s, including the outstanding photography of George Plemper.

  Rob Shields (University of Alberta)