Author Archives: Jeremy

Stuart Elden tracks down “A last interview with French philosopher Michel Foucault”, City Paper – now found and available online

An elusive source found and posted online:

Jamin Raskin, “A last interview with French philosopher Michel Foucault”, City Paper – now found and available online.

via Stuart Elden tracks down “A last interview with French philosopher Michel Foucault”, City Paper – now found and available online.

Gillian Rose and Clive Barnett on cultural objects in the digital age

Is the map a stable cultural object?

Gillian Rose (OU) has a new paper at Progress in Human Geography (PiHG). The key quote from her abstract is:

This paper argues that [cultural geography] must begin to map the complexities of digitally-mediated cultural production, circulation and interpretation. It will argue that, to do this, it is necessary to move away from the attentive gaze on stable cultural objects as formulated by some of the new cultural geography, and instead focus on mapping the dynamics of the production, circulation and modification of meaning at digital interfaces and across frictional networks.

This raises the question of what is a “stable cultural object”? For example, is a map a stable cultural object, or more precisely do studies of “the map” treat it as such? If Rose is correct, then she is pointing to a different understanding of the map, one which is not a stable object in the digital age. If in 1952 America’s leading cartographer, Arthur Robinson, could write a book about “The” Look of Maps, today we understand not so much maps, as mapping(s). A simple example would be the Google map on your phone (watch), which dynamically updates as you move around. This is why I titled my last book “Mapping” rather than maps; to point to mapping as process and “ontogenetic” as Dodge, Kitchin and Perkins would have it (“in the process of becoming”, see also Clancy Wilmott’s fascinating AAG presentation on “Being Big Data“).

Mapping may have an advantage over other sorts of “cultural objects.” If the idea is to see what work such objects do in the world (the materialist manifesto, see Delanda et al.) then maps as instrumental objects come preloaded for such an interpretation. But, there has long been a tradition of the history of maps and mapping, which you would have to say is an opening into possible destabilization. (If something doesn’t change there’s no need for a history, only praise.) As a data point, consider the History of Cartography project. This was conceived in 1977, perhaps sufficiently long ago to precede the saturated digital age we now inhabit. The idea here was indeed to see how maps are not stable, in form or function. Perhaps we forget how controversial that was at the time and how (if it was praising) it at least changed the objects of that praise.

Clive Barnett, who gave an interesting talk last week to our department, replies at length to Rose’s paper here. His argument is complex but one point he makes is to wonder why it has taken “the digital” to make us confront how objects are not culturally stable (and what concentrating on the digital will make us elide,ie by seeing mutability as only or primarily a digital characteristic).

While I like both Rose’s and Barnett’s arguments here, I think this last point is a good one, insomuch as the history of the twentieth century shows that what gets taken up are those ideas or technologies that can travel, circulate and be “calculable.” This is certainly so in mapping, not only in forms of mapping that can be exchanged, but in forms of knowledge that can be mapped and shared among expert and non-expert alike. However, Rose may also be pointing to something “special” about the digital.

What both miss for me, when I think about mappings today, is the imbrication of digital spatial technologies (“new spatial media“) and everyday life in the situation of neoliberal economies. How does value come to be constituted in such situations and how does it travel or circulate? While that it not a new question (I’m thinking of Marx’s Capital Volume 1 here), I’m thinking of how human activity becomes a process of delivering a “return” and how that return is usually one that is calculable. I don’t think we have to look too far to see measures of academic quality in things like the h-index, the ResearchGate Score and impact, journal citation indices, measures of “impact” in the REF, and so on. Place can also be assessed in the same way, hence the proliferation of Livability Indexes.

If we examine the history of cartography we see attempt after attempt to make knowledge calculable, and thus able to circulate, but what we see today is that these circulations are being absorbed to justify flows of capital. Our university recently toyed with the idea of Responsibility Centered Management (RCM) based on an algorithm of performance that would dictate flows of capital to (or from) your unit.

I do think the digital provides evidence of something new here, and Rose is correct to point to it. I am intrigued how this all fits with neoliberalism rise however (I mean the US style neoliberalism since the 1970s). Would be interested to see how Rose/Barnett address that issue.

History of Cartography Vol 6 published

The History of Cartography Project Volume 6 Cartography in the Twentieth Century has been published by the University of Chicago Press. Mark Monmonier is the Editor.

As it happens the sample content for Vol 6 includes the whole of my entry on “Race, Maps and the Social Construction of” and is available online including color reproductions!

The Volume is in two books consisting of over 2,000 pages and 805 color plates for 529 entries for a price of $500/£350. I’ve briefly examined the books and they look fabulous.

I was fortunate enough to attend the publication party at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Below are pictures of Mark Monmonier giving a short talk at the book launch, and Roz Woodward (L) & Jude Leimer (R). David Woodward and Brian Harley were the original editors, conceiving the project in 1977. Matthew Edney is now overall Editor. David was represented by his wife Roz who gave a nice talk (unfortunately I didn’t hear of any Harley family members at the event, although I believe one of his daughters lives in Wisconsin).

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There are dozens of articles I’d want to read, were I to be so lucky as to possess a copy (not a hint, pretty much a pure plea!), including:

American Geographical Society
Analytical Cartography
Cartographic Duplicity in the German Democratic Republic
Choropleth Map
Cold War
Counter-Mapping
Dasymetric Map
Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI; U.S.)
Ethnographic Map
Geographic Information System (GIS)
Harley, J(ohn) B(rian)
Harrison, Richard Edes
Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis (U.S.)
Histories of Cartography
History of Cartography Project
Interactive Map
Jefferson, Mark Sylvester William
Justus Perthes (Germany)
Lobeck, Armin K(ohl)
Martin, Lawrence
Martonne, Emmanuel de
Mathematics and Cartography
Mercator Projection
Narrative and Cartography
Navigation
Orienteering Map
Paris Peace Conference (1919)
Peters Projection [who wrote that entry I wonder?]
Privacy
Projections
Raisz, Erwin (Josephus)
Robinson, Arthur H(oward)
Robinson Projection
Snyder, John P(arr)
Statistical Map
Statistics and Cartography
SYMAP (software)
Tharp, Marie
Thematic Mapping
Tobler, Waldo R(udolph)
U.S. Intelligence Community, Mapping by the
Warfare and Cartography
Women in Cartography
Woodward, David
World Revolution and Cartography
World War I
World War II
Wright, John K(irtland)

Interview with Stuart Elden on our book

A short podcast in which I interview Stuart Elden about our Foucault book Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography. This was conducted in Chicago at the AAG last week.

Link here!

Via Stuart’s Progressive Geography blog.

“Can we praise neoliberalism?”

I haven’t previously felt any need to weigh in on the “can we criticize Foucault?” debate on whether he was sympathetic to neoliberalism or not (see here for background) since the answer is empirically evident that not only can we but we do criticize Foucault.

Here’s a very interesting post however by Henry Sebastian who blogs at sanshistory. He writes:

the reverse question must be: “Can we praise neoliberalism?” and it is here, I suggest, that the uproar such as there was found its momentum.

That might be true (ie., about the “uproar” if there was one), but this question of whether we (rather than Foucault) can praise neoliberalism is provocative. You might remember a similar question in Society Must be Defended, when he asks himself why he is “praising racism.”

YOU MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT, last time, that I was trying to both trace the history of racist discourse and praise it. And you would not have been entirely wrong, except in one respect. It was not exactly racist discourse whose history I was tracing and that I was praising: it was the discourse of race war or race struggle (SMD, p. 65)

So this tracing out can seem like praise, but that is not it exactly.

The blog then goes on to address our initial question by highlighting Foucault’s identification of the “radical potential” of neoliberalism by using a piece from Bob Jessop in 2013 (here) over the difficulty of pinning it down and that it is therefore a site of struggle itself, but not understood as such. Neoliberalism is not only the Harvey-like roll-back of the state/roll-out of the market, but a certain way of leveraging the “collective imagination” of human capital to place human social life squarely as a necessary condition of neoliberalism:

Thus, it is not enough to simply demand “serious” economic study to better encapsulate what neoliberalism actively is, so long as our shared understandings of economy see the social sphere as off-limits.

[Perhaps this is what Harvey objected to at AAG, see my previous post regarding his cut at Gibson-Graham.]

Thus and in other words to praise liberalism is to take it seriously as a reality penetrating forms of life.

AAG 2015 Chicago recap and talks I saw

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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.

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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:

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And Mark Monmonier:

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

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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.

AAG 2015

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Just back from this year’s annual geography conference in Chicago. It was only my second time to Chicago and I got to see more of the city this time. Although the conference was held right downtown at the Hyatt this was an easy walk to the area around N. Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) and amazing places like Eaterly with its two floors of quality food. I tried the coffee (shown above) and some excellent gelato. Also their olive oil selection:

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But I started the week off at the UIC Jane Addams Hull House at a workshop on Big Data, and so saw a slightly different neighborhood. There were also must-do trips to the Art Institute and Millennium Park:

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Chagall Windows at the Art Institute.

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Nice venue they gave me for my paper but sparsely attended! (Actually the Millennium Park Pritzker Pavilion).

I’ll be posting about the more academic side of the conference in another post, but just to say here that there were some very good presentations and talks. There are so many exciting scholars in geography these days!