Washington-Moscow: A New Geopolitical Bilateralism?

Trump has emphasized the bilateral in his thinking and approach.  This is in contrast to the multilateral world of the globalization era that is now at an end.  This includes an end to multilateral trade in favour of a network of focused bilateral economic interactions.  As a thought experiment, imagine that a Trump United States seeks to align itself strategically with other powers, ie. with Russia, even against the interests of its citizens (henceforth expendable in the interests of a monarchic state) or past allies (inconvenient obligations).  In this vision, the US and Russia would be economically similar, as highly divided countries, rigidly ruled.

A US-Russia partition of global interests would be echoed regionally, suggesting balanced tensions between proxies in each arena that dominate international interactions, for example Israel-Syria in the Middle East.  Such states would seek to profit as not only proxies but champions for their respective sponsors in each competition.

However, what of China faced with this bilateral duopoly?  There are opportunities to innovate.  Perhaps China is the banker of this dialectic?  Closer China-India ties be a better strategy for both as it  may lay the basis for a future, post-carbon economic bloc.  India is otherwise too weak to influence the course of events.

As for Europe, it is now retired from the geopolitical stage as it is too internally divided.  2017 thus also marks the end of the long-duree of European colonialism.   The peripheral states produced by European empires as suppliers of raw materials, whether Australia, South Africa, Congo, Algeria, Brazil or Canada, become more unstable because tied to one of the duopolistic major players and held captive to what they are willing to pay.

Bilateralism would suggest rather different international institutions.  It certainly is not neoliberalism with its corresponding international institutions.  Promoting a reduction to market logics  seem to have destroyed civility, allowing tyranny to take root.

If such a thought experiment were to be realized, it would entail a massive forgetting of the 20th century and the lessons of the recent past.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

 

 

Idea of Place

May 5-7: University of Alberta, Edmonton Canada

Research on the idea of place has generated fascinating research from a broad range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, from regional, national and transnational and from intersectional, postcolonial and Indigenous perspectives.

Place is at the fore of current intellectual agendas that are witnessing place slip through the fingers of climate change, to the changing modalities of place under shifting migration patterns, to new discourses of place with promises of new walls, new freedoms, new identities, and new flows. Place speaks to the social and cultural dynamics of the virtual and the material, the transcendent and the concrete.

This conferences welcomes contemporary challenges to the idea of place, along with new ideas, and with a focus on the relationship between individuals and communities to place and history. The purpose of the conference will be to further develop place as a reponsive concept: a tool for understanding strategic sociocultural frames such as time-horizons, cycles, and imagined geography- determined political divisions. The conference will illuminate the dynamics of how places as landscapes, ecologies and cultural topologies facilitate or buffer change. There are growing public demands for, on the one hand, innovation in place-making and, on the other hand, stewardship of the environment. These concerns around places and environments are emerging as a nexus within shared preoccupations across a multicultural society, which includes a complex range of Aboriginal, settler and diasporic communities and histories.

We are especially interested in experimental place as it intersects with any one or more of the following areas: culture and identity, community and politics, event, crisis and disaster, gender and sexualities , resistance, counter-power and power, economics and juridical frameworks, food, the urban and cities, mediation, subjectivation and embodiment, cognition and sensation, code, the production of art, dance, painting, music, film, war, difference, or measurement. Any and all aspects on place will be considered.

A 250-word abstract for a 15-20 minutes presentation should be sent to theideaofplace@gmail.com by the 20th of January. Accepted speakers will be notified shortly thereafter. Please send your proposal as an attachment including a title, an abstract (of no more than 300 words) and a brief biography. If relevant, proposals can include links to give an indication of any artistic, collective or other practice.

For further information, please contact Mickey Vallee: mjvallee@gmail.com

Mickey Vallee
Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
Athabasca University, Canada
www.mickeyvallee.com

High-Speed Train to Jinan

—– Slippery spaces of speed

Flying at 300kmh across the flat plain of Shandong, the high-speed train to Jinan offers an elevated view of harvests, factories and forests. The train crosses countryside and towns undergoing their second, third or fourth total reconstruction in under a hundred years. High-speed G-trains are lifted out of the landscape on elevated tracks which makes the experience different from European fast trains.

China’s walled garden is now laced with the tendrils of the national high speed railway that, as Chinese say, ‘links the south and the north’ integrating either bank of the Yangt’ze, and even the symbolic realms of lion and elephant. ‘What once took a day is now reduced to a commute of an hour and a half.’

The aggressive, 300kmh transportation and technological transformation of the Peoples’ Republic is not only a question of getting around faster. It introduces not only a new tempo but a new rhythm with its own metre. Speed reduces the old space and time distances to afterthoughts. Writers such as Innis and McLuhan and Grant have pointed to the shock of such changes from the old. But you don’t need to have previous experience of travel in China to appreciate the sense of speed. This arises through the contrast between the smooth stillness of the carriage and the a landscape scrolling past in which the mobilities below are pedestrian and agricultural equipment in rural areas, or traffic-congested streets in urban areas. Against the kinesthetic sense of the body sitting still, and the muted sound of the wheels, because of the elevated track, the eye registers the parallax of passing powerlines, roads and windrows. This combination is a prima facie experience of the new.

This contrast, sets the Fast Train to Jinan apart from the local space of everyday life on a line where the velocity is much faster. The contrast in tempos gives rise to the tentacular, tendril-like impression of these lines spanning the ground of everyday spaces and rhythms. On this train, are we ‘on’ a line, or ‘in’ this line – slipping down a linear, one dimensional, slippery space of speed?

In the same way that drawing a line creates a figure graphically, there is a figure-ground relation between the linear and territorial time-spaces.  As if from a quick sketch, we can gain an impression of this evolving character.

Innis’ political economy of Empire and Communications traces the evolution of governance through technologies such as train and telephone. The confrontation of all past and new modes of communication and transportation in China is a remarkable repertoire of not only velocity but of technologies that have temporal and spatial effects. For Innis, echoed by later authors — Virilio, Schivelbusch — speed has a binding effect on spaces, bringing far-flung regions and places ‘closer together.’ Of course, this is a virtual closing of geographical distance. The technologies extend the ‘reach’ of power and create a new topology of relationships. In the first instance this seems to be a closing of gaps between places, but it also affects the relationship between parts and whole, between place and space. The effect is to create a new figure against the ground of China understood as territory, economy and political space. This figure is not only the train, but the traveller, a mobilized citizen in counterpoint to an older, territorially-anchored citizen.

Perhaps the contrast of the space of high speed trains and travellers is most strongly marked by contrast with those who, for many reasons, refuse to acquiesce to this new infrastructure, insisting on remaining in their houses, refusing to move, contesting the terms of relocation – or perhaps more appropriately, dispossession. This time-space of dwelling, the rhythms of everyday life, is pierced by new roads, train lines, and ranks of highrise accommodations intended to ‘urbanize’ ambivalent workers and reluctant peasants. The ‘refusees’ are often forcibly removed by violently destroying their houses. They are labelled ‘dangerous’ and must plead their status as ‘good citizens’ who ‘merely want to be left a space to live’. The doubt cast on the respectability of one set of people contrasts with citizens embracing the new superimposition of rhythms and time-spaces that reorders routines giving daily life both greater reach yet rendering the new citizen rootlessness and alienated from the more sedentary pace and terms of the territorial ground.

The high-speed train to Jinan —–

Traces the linear space-time, rhythm and tempo of a new political subject. Is this still the People, or a Mobile Citizen? In the euphoria of the new, it is all too easy to miss the counterpoint.

—– Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Book Review: Simone on Jakarta, between near and far

AbdouMaliq Simone, Jakarta: Drawing the City Near, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014; 320 pp.: ISBN 9780816693351 (hbk), 9780816693368 (pbk)

In Jakarta: Drawing the city near, AbdouMaliq Simone offers imagean inside-out perspective to understand the unknown realities of conventionally known urbanization process and everyday life of urban common in cities. Based on his meticulous ethnographic field study in three districts in Jakarta, Simone has produced a new spatial language from ‘within’ the city to read the distinctive trajectories of urbanization of the metropolis in the global South.

The book is structured around four inventive concepts: Near South, Urban Majority, Devising Relations and Endurance. Near South is introduced as a provisional devise to indicate how major metropolises of the non-West are moving toward or away from each other. In that sense ‘near South’ is an ‘interstitial space’ that is neither of the North nor of the South. Simone locates most metropolises in the near South to critique the binary opposition between the ‘developed’ North and the ‘underdeveloped’ South. He stretches ‘nearness’ beyond the comparison between cities and highlights that ‘certain residents have the opportunity to build specific ways of life (p. 35).’

Among the proliferation of mega-developments and emerging middle class in contemporary Jakarta, Simone draws attention to the ‘urban majority’, the residents who really bring the ‘nearness’ and shape the city by occupying and changing its spaces in their everyday practices. The urban majority is not a demographic fact or a political identity but refers to the residents who live in between strictly poor and middle class (p. 85-86). Instead of pursuing the aspirations of middle-class status, Simone shows that how the urban majority transforms urban spaces through ‘incremental’ initiatives, the actions of the residents that do not aim definitive results, but to make ‘something’ happen such as expanding a house to rent out rooms or construct a mosque in the neighborhood. Although such efforts seem simple or mostly negligible in mainstream urban theory, they are, Simone convincingly demonstrates as the ‘machines of support’. That generates not only income and opportunities but also multifaceted social, cultural, and economic networks and negotiations among residents in the city (p. 111 -114).

Yet, the close proximity or increasing density of buildings, objects, and bodies in cities do not necessarily guarantee relations. Simone thus brings the concept of ‘devising relations’ to examine the dynamic relations between inhabitants, materials, and particular spaces in Jakarta. Then he introduces metaphors such as ‘the hinge’ and ‘the hodgepodge landscape’ to emphasize how these relations allow the city to follow global urbanization trajectories when the heterogeneity of their urban spaces remain same in terms of their social composition and use.

The concept of ‘endurance,’ denotes the way in which the majority of residents continue their lives while dealing with extreme uncertainties – both dangers and opportunities – in their everyday urban life in Jakarta. Instead of being very conscious on their identities, residents focus on the possible opportunities of their daily routines and employs deception as a method of endurance in everyday urban life.

Ultimately, Simone connects his learning from an inside-out perspective in Jakarta with contemporary urban theory and policy. He necessitates the integration and enrollment of residents’ views, aspirations, and the way in which they shape spaces, in urban policy making to ensure the long run of cities. Instead of relying upon the contemporary urban theory, Simone has theorized Jakarta. His work profoundly validates the residents’ life and their contribution to continue the heterogeneous urban life of the city.

Pradeep Sangapala (Urban and Regional Planning Program, University of Alberta)

Lining up for iphone 7

Iphone 7 had an initial launch in 28 countries on September 16th. Though I’m not a fan of Apple products, but since the price of iphone 7 is much cheaper in Canada than in China and my friends and I are leaving for China, we decided to buy iphone 7 for our families.

One of my colleagues said that the iphone 7 would be very popular according to the experience in the previous years. She suggested that I line up for the iphone 7 in West Edmonton Mall as early as possible. At first, I took this as a joke, because the iphone 7 seems have no big difference from iphone 6 or 6s, most of the fans would be waiting for iphone 7s or 8. However, what made me change my mind is the picture of the queue in front of the Shanghai branch of the Apple Store.

The queue in front of Shanghai Apple Store

(http://news.china.com/hd/11127798/20160916/23562627_3.html#photos)

So I decided to line up for the phone and went to WEM at 8PM on September 15th. However, there were only a few people waiting. To my surprise, two girls brought blankets and pillows, as well as snacks and drinks. “Professional!” I said to myself. Behind the two girls were two heavily-bearded men. They said they work for Telus. After a short time chatting, we waited together, watching films or playing phone games separately.

Two well-prepared girls

At about 2AM, there were still a few people waiting, which made me really disappointed. Suddenly, four men cut in the queue right in front of me. I asked politely and said “Please line up behind us”. But the bearded men said that the four guys are his friends and they just wanted to play games together. If they get the only phone, they would give it to me immediately. I believed them and let them jump in, which I regretted later. They were playing and chatting so noisily that I couldn’t sleep the whole night.

At 7.45AM, some Apple staff came out and asked for our request. I wanted a 128G matte black iphone 7. But the guy right in front of me ordered this one. And what I got from the staff is there was no 128G matte black 7 and I must change my request to a gold one. “That’ not fair!” my friends and I were angry. We tried to negotiate with them because they promised us they give us the phone if they got it since they jumped the line. However, they pretended they didn’t say that. I was so stupid that I trusted these people. What the worst thing was that after one of the men got the ideal one I wanted, he asked me how much I would like to pay to get the phone. Then I was keenly exasperated! What a scalper! “Lair! I won’t pay anything!” I said to them. And finally I got a gold one reluctantly. But the staff said that I can swap if there would be some models on stock after a few days.

That was a really unhappy experience. But I’m really appreciate the help I got from the Apple staff, Jonathon. Without his help and patience, I would not have a matte black iphone 7 now.

Ziru Deng (East China Normal University, Shanghai)

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)