Category Archives: Philosophy

AAG 2018 Session and Panel on Anxious/Desiring Geographies

Along with Mikko Joronen (University of Tampere, Finland) and Nick Robinson (Royal Holloway) I’m very pleased and excited to announce two complementary sessions at next year’s AAG meetings on “Anxious/Desiring Geographies.” (See our CFP here.)

There will be a paper session and a panel session.

Paper presenters (abstracts below)

Pawan Singh (Deakin University) “Anxious to not be Identified in the Age of Social Media: Data Privacy and Visibility in Postcolonial India.

Keith Harris (University of Washington) “The schizo and the city: mapping desiring-geographies.”

Banu Gokariksel (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Anna J. Secor (University of Kentucky) “Ethical encounters, anxious antagonisms: The emergence of Alevi-Sunni difference in Turkey.

Laura McKinley (York University) “Canada 150 Discovery Pass; Anxiety, Desire and the Structure of Settler-Colonial Attachments to the Land.”

David B. Clarke (Swansea University) and Marcus Doel (Swansea University) “The Other is Not Enough: Becoming Afraid, Being Anxious, and Antiphilosophy in Book X of the Seminar of Jacques Lacan.”

(Chair: Mikko Joronen)

(Organizers: Jeremy Crampton, Mikko Joronen, and Nick Robinson)

Panel participants

Anna J. Secor (University of Kentucky)

Mikko Joronen (SPARG, Finland)

Sarah Moore (University of Wisconsin – Madison)

Felicity Callard (Birkbeck, University of London)

Paul Kingsbury (Simon Faser University)

(Chair: Jeremy Crampton).

(Organizers: Jeremy Crampton, Mikko Joronen and Nick Robinson)

We think these are two very exciting line-ups!

Read on! Continue reading

cfp AAG 2018: Anxious/Desiring Geographies

Call for Papers: “Anxious/Desiring geographies.”

Sponsored by the AAG Digital Geography Specialty Group and the Political Geography Specialty Group.
AAG Annual Conference New Orleans April 10-14, 2018

Organizers: Jeremy W. Crampton (Kentucky, USA), Nick Robinson (RHUL, UK), Mikko Joronen (Tampere, Finland).

At this political moment we seem beset by anxieties from every direction. Automation is identified as an existential threat to jobs. Vulnerabilities from political violence increase anxieties of the subaltern. Climate change and the inauguration of the Anthropocene threaten our wellbeing. Nast (2017) credits the financial crisis with being “psychically traumatic.”

At least since Gregory’s identification of the inadequacy of representation, which he dubbed “cartographic anxiety” (Gregory, 1994), geographers have meaningfully contributed to understandings of the affective politics of anxiety. Attention has been paid to a geopolitics of fear that is experienced on both an everyday and global level (Pain and Smith, 2008), and to sexual desires and identities (Bell and Valentine, 1995). Brown and Knopp (2016) identified a biopolitics of the state’s anxieties in the governance of the gay bar.

In this session we seek papers that deepen our geographical understandings of anxiety, desire and/or the possible relationship(s) between them.

Is anxiety a mental disease that can be diagnosed and treated (APA, 2013), founded on lack, or can it be deployed more positively (Robbins and Moore, 2012)? Is anxiety the only affect that does not deceive (Lacan, 2014)? What is the relation between anxiety, desire and place? What might a politics of locationally affective resistance look like (Griffiths, 2017)? How is desire productive of spaces? How do anxiety and desire circulate and relate to subjectivities and the material body? Are there particular places and spaces that are invested in anxiety or desire, and what is the lived experience there?

Topics that address these questions include but are not limited to:

  • Places of anxiety and desire
  • Surveillance anxiety (eg., geosurveillance, automated facial recognition)
  • Automation anxiety and desires
  • The affective politics of policing
  • Living in code/space & the smart city and becoming the data subject
  • Everyday anxieties
  • The biopolitics of anxiety and desire
  • The anxious/desiring/desired body
  • Affective resistances
  • Governing through desire
  • Anxieties from political violence
  • Affective relations of anxiety/desire to pain, grief, worry or fear


Please send a title and abstract of 250 words to,, and Mikko Joronen by October 15th.

American Psychiatric Association. 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Bell, D. and Valentine, G. Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities. London: Routledge.

Brown, M. & L. Knopp. 2016. Sex, drink, and state anxieties: governance through the gay bar. Social & Cultural Geography, 17, pp. 335-358.

Gregory, D. 1994. Geographical Imaginations. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Griffiths, M. (2017) Hope in Hebron: The political affects of activism in a strangled city. Antipode, 49, 617-635.

Lacan, J. 2014. Anxiety. Seminar Book X. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Nast, H. J. (2017) Into the arms of dolls: Japan’s declining fertility rates, the 1990s financial crisis and the (maternal) comforts of the posthuman. Social & Cultural Geography, 18, 758-785.

Pain, R. and Smith, S. (Eds) 2008. Fear: Critical Geopolitics and Everyday Life. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Robbins, P. and Moore, S.A. 2012. Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene. cultural geographies, 20(1) 3–19.

Sioh, M. 2014. A small narrow space: postcolonial territorialization and the libidinal economy. In P. Kingsbury and S. Pile (Eds), Psychoanalytic Geographies. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.




I was reading the Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD) this morning to look up more details on Euripides’ play Erectheus, which is only survived in some quoted passages in other works, and rather amazingly in some papyrus that was used to wrap a mummy. The reason for this search is the new book by Joan B. Connolly, the Parthenon Enigma, which summarizes her long-standing theory that the frieze on the Parthenon denotes a human sacrifice, discussed in the New Yorker here ($). Connolly uses quotations from the play (among other things) to justify this claim, since in the play the daughters of Erectheus (an early/mythological king of Athens) volunteer to die after an oracle declares only a royal virgin will guarantee victory in war. (I use the third edition OCD, but there is a fourth edition.)

Coincidentally nearby the entry for Erectheus in the OCD is the entry for “Etymology,” which I was intrigued to see was a contested theory in Greek and Roman times, with Socratic debates (in Cratylus) and textbooks (Varro’s De lingua Latina). The two main theories were that words were a matter of convention (nomos) which was opposed by the idea that words bore some natural relationship between sign and signified (physis). The latter view prevailed, according to the OCD.

In Cratylus (still summarizing the OCD), Cratylus argues for physis against Hermogenes, who argues for nomos. The play raises some influential etymological concepts, including the idea that language comes from a few basic building blocks or stoichea (422a).

The entry also discusses Augustine’s De dialectica which may have been based in Varro (116-27BCE). There are some interesting ideas here, and the OCD lists Augustine’s summary of Stoic approaches to etymology and word derivation:

(1) through similarity (a similitudine) with the sound of the word (onomatopoeia), as in the case of balatus the ‘bleating’ of sheep, or with its impression on the senses, as with the harsh-sounding vepres, ‘brambles’; (2) through similarity between one thing and another: so crura, ‘legs’, are named for crux, ‘cross’, because legs are long and hard like a wooden cross; (3) through various forms of proximity (a vicinitate), as with for example horreum, ‘granary’, which is named from the thing it contains, hordeum, ‘barley’; (4) from contrariety (e contrario), as with lucus, ‘a grove’ because minimae luceat, ‘it has little light’, and bellum, ‘war’, because it is not a res bella, ‘a pretty thing.’ Examples of all these types can be found in Varro (OCD entry, Etymology).

This passage affords us some comparisons with Foucault’s discussions of etymology and similarity in the Order of Things, although as far as I know he does not mention either Augustine or Varro in that book. Nevertheless, in Chap. 2 “The Prose of the World,” Foucault outlines four notions of similarity in the 16th Century (“the time when resemblance was about to relinquish its relation with knowledge and disappear”): convenientia (spatial proximity); aemulatio or non-proximal imitation [in the computer world we speak of a computer “emulator”]; analogy, which comprises nearness and farness at the same time; and sympathies [cf. sympathetic magic, as for example in one of the “solutions” to the problem of longitude, where a “powder of sympathy” was proposed that could simultaneously work across the distance between the ship and its home port], a drawing of things together in a movement (hence, change).

What is interesting here is that all of these must be read, even those that appear hidden (coded, encrypted or secret). This reading is done through signs and signatures. This clearly points to the need for knowledge; the knowledge of the adept or initiate and conceivably to a discipline (semiology). You can see here an indication of the mutuality between ciphers and scholars (as well as mantics).

Transparency and secrecy

I’d like to consider in more detail some papers published in Theory, Culture & Society last year. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these papers represent some very interesting inroads into a better understanding of secrecy, transparency and ultimately perhaps even truth.

Clare Birchall’s article, which introduces the special section, makes some sensible suggestions already in her abstract:

Despite common demands to support either transparency or secrecy in political and moral terms, we live with the tension between these terms and its inherent contradictions daily.

She sets up the terms of the debate as opacity and openness, but goes on to say that “we must work with the tension between these terms” rather than choosing one or the other. There is a tension between them.

This is a good start, but we need to go even further. Obviously the relations between privacy, secrecy, transparency are not symmetric. We can know very little about the state, but it can know a great deal about us, as I’ve said many times before. This is to say only that there are power dynamics at work.

Some of her remarks about a perceived love of transparency, or at least transparency talk, are widely off the mark a year and a half later. “Open government is the new mantra” she writes, “a sign of cultural…authority” (pp. 8-9). Today, this reads like little more than government talking points, but even in 2012 (post sealed indictments against WikiLeaks and the imprisonment of Bradley Manning) they are more than a little optimistic. She does note that some Obama administration transparency efforts have been “compromised” but relegates this to a footnote instead of a central problem to be taken into account. Are there really “countless copycats” of WikiLeaks (p. 15)? I don’t think so.

Also optimistic is her partial history of transparency, at least in the US. Her examples (Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, FOIA, etc.) could all be rebutted by pointing out that often, these were hard won, partial concessions, and that they permitted many other activities to go on in secret. That is, these transparency moves are covers; a kind of secret themselves.

The most striking of these in recent years, for me, was what happened to the government’s transparency website, Unveiled with some fanfare at the tail end of the Bush administration, it was meant to provide a public, user-friendly and authoritative source to government spending on outsourced contracts. In fact, intelligence agencies almost immediately gained exemptions to it (including the NGA and NSA), while others (such as the NRO) just never took part in it. We tell the story of this a bit more in a forthcoming paper “The New Political Economy of Geographical Intelligence” for the Annals. Nowhere on the site does it mention any of this–you have to read obscure GAO documents, and CRS articles that are not directly released to the public.

(Ironically, I recently emailed the NGA press office to inquire if they were still exempt, but have not received a reply or even an acknowledgement. So much for transparency!)

Birchall argues, following Derrida, that the state is placed into an “infinite hesitation” in the face of transparency. It cannot be too transparent, because then it allows no room for personal privacy, and it cannot not be transparent because then it is also hegemonic and clandestine, if not covert.

But could the issue not be resolved by splitting apart the object of analysis and instead of arguing for all-or-none transparency, see citizens as in a relation with the state? To citizens go the choice of privacy-transparency, but to the state goes no choice but the requirement of transparency (and not just the state, but corporate actions).

Ah, but how much choice to the citizen? Well, that’s up for debate, but in my view it’s a better one that debating all-or-nothing transparency/privacy. Here I like what she has to say about the need to resist going “beyond” either term, and get used to inhabiting it strategically (p. 12). I think this is absolutely correct.

One thing to be mentioned here is the role of corporate America. If oversight of government activities is bad, try business, especially intel businesses. These often operate with even less transparency than government (what really does Booz Allen Hamilton do? That $15m intel contract–what’s it for?) As Birchall notes, this can give rise to “lip-service transparency” in the neoliberal context.

There are lots of provocative questions here, and it is surprising that more people have not considered the relations between secrecy, lies, truth, and transparency. (Birchall does give examples of these.) One angle that continues to intrigue, is that between secrecy and knowledge.

Isn’t it interesting that one of the great foundational stories of western religion is that of the tree of knowledge. This tree is forbidden because it has dangerous knowledge (not all transparency is good). So here we enter forbidden knowledges, arcana, Pandora’s Box, the occult, secret societies. The “will to knowledge” then, in Foucault’s words, becomes something both highly problematic and yet compelling.

So in some ways this could be read as another consideration of truth, and the difficulties of truth. Knowledge is about getting the truth. But I do think there’s still a lot to be worked through about secrets, and the relationships between knowledge and truth. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the articles in the TCS special section.

Archives, imagination and social value

I’m currently working in the American Geographical Society Library archives at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as part of my Woodward Fellowship in the History of Cartography.

If you’ve worked much with archives you’ll be familiar with the very natural enquiry, expressed in different ways, but essentially asking if you found anything interesting that day. This reflects an attitude about archives, and one I’ve often held myself, that sees them as mines from which one can extract a nugget, or “smoking gun” document. So-and-so was a racist! This guy knew that guy! They secretly worked for X!

A consequence of this is that archives are like slag heaps, or 99 per cent dross. Certainly reading through endless letters arranging trips, apologising for missing meetings, or reports full of long-forgotten rainfall statistics, or number of hours worked, etc etc. can lead you very naturally to this conclusion. Especially given that these files haven’t been looked at for decades and probably won’t be again, unless a document were to be identified as a nugget. This might be called the researcher’s view.

I’ve been thinking about this however, and this doesn’t seem correct. What makes something interesting? First of all, I don’t think the opposite view is correct either: that all the documents are valuable. This is something like the archivists view. After all, why do we not only preserve “the” archive, but take pain and expense to acquire it (which might mean driving papers across country, buying first class seats on airplanes for 15th century maps, being detained at border crossings because you were wrongly accused of taking papers without permission–all stories I’ve heard over the years about the archives I’m working in now), employing a staff, paying rent on a building, processing, accessioning, cataloging, storing in acid-free folders, creating finding aids, battling other parts of the library for space, dealing with trustees, etc.

The answer is, I take it, because the archive has value; either in and of itself (value inheres to the documents, especially as a collection where one can read something against another document) or because something might be seen as interesting later on (you never know!). I used to be somewhat like this, keeping 15 year old video tapes from my Masters in the attic, my grad school notes from 1985 with Peter Gould, but over the last couple of years I’ve thrown a lot of paper away. (I still have the Peter Gould spatial stats notes.) In my office I’m now down to less than 2 drawers of papers and say 15 linear feet of books on the shelves. (Thankfully, as we’re moving floors of our building and I had to box everything up.)

I try not to accumulate new papers, so that notes from meetings etc are scanned in with my Fuji ScanSnap scanner (one of the best values for money around), this goes right into pdf with OCR and then into EverNote. I think it takes two clicks. Older notes were gradually scanned into pdfs with short titles (for searching purposes, so eg “Elden on Confession EPD” or whatever) and into a hierarchical file structure, old papers were tossed and d/l as pdfs to replace any I wanted to keep.

But what is it that makes something valuable or interesting? Should we keep everything? How does value accrue? Do I need Nietzsche’s note that he forgot his umbrella?

If indeed we follow the Derrida line of reasoning and see everything in a play of difference, a network, it would still be necessary I think to examine (with Foucault) why certain relationships, or documents, can come to matter and not others. This is at heart a historical argument, which is why a genealogy is necessary.

But this coming to be is not at all passive, or structural, or because of power/knowledge. It’s interesting to speculate, somewhat similarly with the nature-culture view in anthropology, that beings (or in this case the value of beings) are simultaneously inherent properties but also within larger contexts. (This might align with object oriented ontology, I don’t know.) So a document can be made to be interesting, but it’s easier to do this with some documents than others.

So I think we sometimes forget the part of why something is interesting, which is that we have to use creativity and imagination to make something interesting. This is often overlooked by students for example, who expect material to be interesting without having to do any work to make it interesting. This is an attitude that we often use to separate good students; their style of study or reasoning is that they are prepared to find something interesting.

So as I think about the thousands of pages of documents I photographed and whether any of them are interesting, that’s quite a daunting question, because I think of the challenge of imagination I need to face in order to see what I have as interesting. This is perhaps what it means to be an academic, not just in the social sciences, but probably others too. (It’s given to very few of us to be truly smart.)


New Yorker on science fiction

Latest New Yorker is a special issue on science fiction. Pieces by Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, Anthony Burgess, Ursula LeGuin, and others.

And Part 3 of Simon Critchley’s series on Philip K. Dick is now available.

Simon Critchley on Philip K. Dick

The philosopher Simon Critchley takes a shot at writing about PKD. If you’ve read the recently published Exegesis, based on Dick’s unpublished late-night attempts to understand the events of 2-3-74 (Feb/March 1974 when he underwent a series of visions) you’ll have seen some of Critchley’s footnotes.

It’s been a kind of scandal that the professional philosophy field has not engaged with Dick’s work as much as it might have. I think the recent interest is in large part thanks to Jonathan Lethem (who edited the Exegesis and got Dick on the Library of America).

Dickheads won’t learn anything factually new here, but that’s not the point. Critchley wisely doesn’t attempt to “explain” what Dick experienced (eg through drugs or illness). Rather Critchley takes up the challenge of what Dick writes as a series of ideas with implications.

Critchley writes:

There is a tension throughout “Exegesis” between a monistic view of the cosmos (where there is just one substance in the universe, which can be seen in Dick’s references to Spinoza’s idea as God as nature, Whitehead’s idea of reality as process and Hegel’s dialectic where “the true is the whole”) and a dualistic or Gnostical view of the cosmos, with two cosmic forces in conflict, one malevolent and the other benevolent. The way I read Dick, the latter view wins out. This means that the visible, phenomenal world is fallen and indeed a kind of prison cell, cage or cave.

The latter view is indeed predominant in Dick’s writings, especially after 1974, such Valis and the Divine Invasion. (In the latter a damaged savior attempts to break through to our world, but is damaged and forgetful due to the evil efforts of the malevolent tendency.) It’s interesting to note that Critchley sees it as in “tension” with the monistic worldview in Dick’s work, but maybe he means over the course of his career.

The novelty of Dick’s Gnosticism is that the divine is alleged to communicate with us through information.

This is also worth noting (the title Valis of course is the acronym vast active living intelligence system). However, in Dick’s world, the information can never quite make it through, or is degraded in some way.

Part 2 (of a 3-part series) is here.

(h/t Jon Cogburn at NewAPPS)

“Sybil” lived in Lexington, KY

Listening to the On the Media show this morning I learned that “Sybil” the key figure in the dissociative identity disorder (DID, previously known as multiple personality disorder) lived for many years in Lexington. Her psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, was a prof at the UK Med School. Apparently Sybil lived on Henry Clay Boulevard and ran an art gallery at her home.

Now you may know that this case is controversial as people debate back and forth over whether DID is a media creation or is a “real” disease. (See the comments under the OTM story panning the author of a new book called Sybil Exposed, who was interviewed by OTM.)

I like Ian Hacking on this. Hacking is the Canadian philosopher and author of Historical Ontology, who was a prof. at the College de France for many years. HO is a collection of essays and therefore very easy to read. A good one here is “Making up people“:

Around 1970, there arose a few paradigm cases of strange behaviour similar to phenomena discussed a century earlier and largely forgotten. A few psychiatrists began to diagnose multiple personality. It was rather sensational. More and more unhappy people started manifesting these symptoms. At first they had the symptoms they were expected to have, but then they became more and more bizarre. First, a person had two or three personalities. Within a decade the mean number was 17. This fed back into the diagnoses, and became part of the standard set of symptoms. It became part of the therapy to elicit more and more alters. Psychiatrists cast around for causes, and created a primitive, easily understood pseudo-Freudian aetiology of early sexual abuse, coupled with repressed memories. Knowing this was the cause, the patients obligingly retrieved the memories. More than that, this became a way to be a person. In 1986, I wrote that there could never be ‘split’ bars, analogous to gay bars. In 1991 I went to my first split bar.

This story can be placed in a five-part framework. We have (a) a classification, multiple personality, associated with what at the time was called a ‘disorder’. This kind of person is now a moving target. We have (b) the people, those I call ‘unhappy’, ‘unable to cope’, or whatever relatively non-judgmental term you might prefer. There are (c) institutions, which include clinics, annual meetings of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, afternoon talkshows on television (Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera made a big thing of multiples, once upon a time), and weekend training programmes for therapists, some of which I attended. There is (d) the knowledge: not justified true belief, once the mantra of analytic philosophers, but knowledge in Popper’s sense of conjectural knowledge, and, more specifically, the presumptions that are taught, disseminated and refined within the context of the institutions. Especially the basic facts (not ‘so-called facts’, or ‘facts’ in scare-quotes): for example, that multiple personality is caused by early sexual abuse, that 5 per cent of the population suffer from it, and the like. There is expert knowledge, the knowledge of the professionals, and there is popular knowledge, shared by a significant part of the interested population. There was a time, partly thanks to those talkshows and other media, when ‘everyone’ believed that multiple personality was caused by early sexual abuse. Finally, there are (e) the experts or professionals who generate (d) the knowledge, judge its validity, and use it in their practice. They work within (c) institutions that guarantee their legitimacy, authenticity and status as experts. They study, try to help, or advise on the control of (b) the people who are (a) classified as of a given kind.

This of course is very Foucauldian, and there’s a nice symmetry that Hacking worked at the College de France.