AAG 2015 Chicago recap and talks I saw


I talked about some of the sights I saw during last week’s AAG conference in Chicago in an earlier post but here I just want to mention some of the fantastic talks I attended. Quality was very high this year, and not without some controversy.

There were plenty of choices–I’ve heard there were 97 concurrent sessions. So 97 people giving papers at any one time! This is clearly ridiculous. The conference is 5 days long, papers start at 8am and go past 7pm every day. There’s also a full day of papers on the last Saturday, which everybody also complains about (it’s the day most people do their sightseeing, so sessions are lightly attended). An obvious solution to that problem is to have the conference M-F instead of T-Sat.

As for the number of sessions this is a result of the AAG policy of accepting every paper. While on the one hand there are justifications for this (geography attendees include people from government and industry who can only get funding to come if their paper is accepted, plus the origins of the AAG as an old boys’ club in the pre-war era when you could only join at the invitation of a current member), quite frankly now the system is breaking down. I would gladly look at 7 or so 250-word abstracts if it meant a less overwhelming conference. (Or, since papers are in organized sessions, do what the IBG/RGS does and give out “tokens” that specialty groups can distribute, up to a certain limit.) There are arguments for both sides of this issue, but 10,000 or so attendees is very challenging.

I began the week at a Symposium organized by Caroline Rendon, Curt Winkle and Rachel Weber of University of Illinois Chicago on urban Big Data called “The Crowd, the Cloud, and Urban Governance.” This was structured as three keynotes by Bronwen Morgan (U New South South Wales, Aus.), Matthew Zook (UKY) and Agnieszka Leszczynski (Birmingham) with responses, including one from Taylor Shelton (Clark). These were all uniformly good with plenty to reflect on.

The AAG proper then got going on Tuesday with a session on Smart Cities, including a good talk by Michael Carter (Queens) who argued that the smart city is basically the surveillant city. Perhaps nothing too new there but he tied it in with neoliberalism for a perspective no doubt not often encountered at smart city promotional events.

Wednesday I had a more mixed experience at the Critical GIS themed sessions. Unfortunately I missed the first session, but Luke Bergman (U Wash.) offered a very challenging talk on formalizing the Goodchild et al., 2007 paper on the geo-atom with some thoughts on what he called a “geo-interpretation.” This was a little over my head but perhaps provides a vocabulary for accounting for individuals as well as representing space. It got me thinking about calculation in GIS again (space is that which is subject to calculability).

That afternoon I was on three panels back-to-back. No doubt the most memorable will be the “Robots” panel organized by Vinny del Casino and Lily House-Peters (Ariz.). All the papers were very good; as well as the ones by Vinny and Lily my colleague Matt Wilson spoke (drawing on Haraway’s cyborg work), and Heidi Nast (DePaul, who gave a version of her work on love dolls and sexbots). If you’ve seen Heidi speak you know it is usually a fascinating tour de force and this was no different, especially some of the material she’d dug up. I was sat right in front of the screen and every time I looked back over my shoulder were pictures of female topless love dolls. I swear in one video clip she showed that the doll was producing sake out of one breast while a man palpated the other!

Another panel was one I’d co-organized with Agnieszka called “Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation” which featured presentations by Elvin Wyly (UBC, who’d also been at the UIC workshop on Monday), Rob Kitchin (Maynooth), Agnieszka, and Julie Cupples (Edinburgh). All of these were excellent, and I’ve placed an audio recording of it online here:

Where’s the Value (link to audio).

The last session was the paper I’ve been working on with Sue Roberts (UKY) on “Drone Economies.” I feel this paper is finally getting into the shape of what we want to say now. Here are the slides:

The other paper I really enjoyed in that session was by Caren Kaplan (UC Davis) who spoke on air power at home–a very good history of air power as policing.

Thursday was a bit of a mix (and a mix-up). Turns out that as well as two sessions on Big Data I’d co-organized with the ever-patient Agnieszka, I was simultaneously booked as a discussant for Joe Bryan and Denis Wood’s new book Weaponizing Maps. I was sorry to miss this and heard that Denis was in fine form, so here is a pic of him from a session Annette Kim’s new book, Sidewalk City.


I was very pleased with our two sessions, despite being at 8am the morning after the night before (aka the Wildcats party). Session I and Session II links are here. We’re hoping to get some written versions of these soon so I’ll post separately on that. Thanks to the participants in these sessions! And thanks too to the conference gods who gave us a room with big bright windows on a sunny day so that we could look out over the city.

Thursday was also the day of the reception at the Newberry Library for the latest volume of the History of Cartography, Volume 6 The Twentieth Century (edited by Mark Monmonier). It was amazing to see Roz Woodward again:


And Mark Monmonier:


And this nice pic of Roz and series editor Jude Leimer:


After this was the Penn State party on the top floor of the Swissôtel (43rd) where I had a good chat with Rob Roth, Lucky Yapa, Cindy Brewer and others.

Somewhere in there was a very full session on David Harvey’s new book, the latest in his Marx Project as he called it, Seventeen Contradictions. A lot of people noted that this was largely done by his good friends and colleagues, but this is to ignore the very trenchant comments by my colleague Sue Roberts, who called him out on his dismissal of Gibson-Graham’s work on feminist critiques of capital, to which he admitted with a surprisingly childish retort (basically “they started it” meaning they didn’t cite his work, which several people have told me is just incorrect…you may follow this link and judge for yourself).

As I understand it Gibson-Graham critiqued the “capital centric” understandings of capitalism as being too exclusionary of other non-capitalist approaches within the global economy, and since Harvey’s book is deliberatively about contradictions of capital per se (rather than capitalism) he had to dismiss them, though not, as Sue pointed out, by name. So that all seemed a bit shabby of Harvey, but I guess he doesn’t have to care at this point.

The last session I attended was on Friday featuring Lauren Berlant on “Sensing the Commons” forthcoming in Society & Space. This was quite a different style of talk–she totally captivated the large audience–and well outside my area of expertise, or even ways of thinking. I think many people are familiar with her work but it was new to me and I’m very glad I went.

So that’s about it in terms of formal sessions, but there were many other chance encounters and chats in bars and hotel lobbies especially with bright grad students. I also got to interview Stuart Elden about our 2007 book Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography (Ashgate) which should soon be posted on the publisher’s website. I’ve listened to the 14 minutes or so of the discussion and I think many people will enjoy hearing about the origins of the book and some of Stuart’s more recent work on Foucault. Good to see Stuart again.

Apologies to all those I missed and I wish I could have seen more. AAG has become a larger than life event and by day 4 I usually need some quiet time! It was great to see friends old and new as well as colleagues whose work I’ve been reading but hadn’t met before (the benefits of organizing sessions!). Next year will be another big one–it’s in San Francisco.

5 responses to “AAG 2015 Chicago recap and talks I saw

  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Jeremy Crampton’s thoughts on the AAG conference with some links to and discussion of papers he gave or saw.

  2. Pingback: “Can we praise neoliberalism?” | Open Geography

  3. Pingback: Coloniality, masculinity and big data economies | Julie Cupples

  4. Pingback: Will Periscope, a Mobile App, Open Up Academic Conferences? | GlobalHigherEd

  5. I wonder if it’s time for another “the AAG is out of control” piece by someone, somewhere, like James McCarthy’s editorial commentary in EPA after the last San Francisco AAG: http://www.envplan.com/epa/editorials/a41193.pdf We’re in San Francisco again next year, and I can only imagine it will be bigger even than Chicago…

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