Category Archives: Political geography

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.


Technology is political because politics includes the technological

I’ve been thinking some more on Stuart’s apothegm that I reblogged yesterday about the relationship between politics and the technical. Here it is again from his post:

One of the previous presenters had made the claim that there was nothing political about some of the techniques. While I made the comment that we could say that there is always a politics to the technical, I was most interested in turning his claim around, rather than disagreeing with it: suggesting that the political is always technical. I’ve made this claim before in relation to territory as a political technology, as dependent on all sorts of techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain.

What this does, for me, is rather than to dogmatically oppose people who say that the technical is not political (a position I’ve encountered frequently in reading and writing about mapping for instance) it opens up possibilities for investigation. How is the political technical? What does that mean? What technologies are involved? Specifically exciting is that it invites on to the field of inquiry (I can imagine) all sorts of cartographies and mappings. It has the secondary purpose of enrolling the first speaker in the search as well, rather than disallowing their position or telling them they’re wrong; hence of actually persuading people, assuming you do a good job of demonstrating how the political is technical.

Long-time readers of Stuart’s work are well familiar with this move of his. In Mapping the Present (2001), the first major book of his I read, he makes a similar argumentative move, claiming that “space is political because the political is spatial” (eg., p. 6). This might seem at first to be a tautology, but Stuart is not equating the two per se. What he’s getting at, is that in order to understand how mapping is political (say), you have to understand how the political enrolls technologies such as mapping. That’s your opening into the circle.

Another one from the same book is the need to both “historicize space and spatialize history” (p. 3). In this case there’s more of a productive tension or dialectic perhaps.

One of my favorites, that again is disarmingly provocative, is when Stuart does a reversal of the usual understanding of territory and territoriality. Where typically we have seen people starting with notions of territoriality and saying that this produces territory, Stuart reverses this (Elden, 2010). Later he says “In other words, while particular strategies or practices produce territory, there is a need to understand territory to grasp what territoriality, as a condition of territory, is concerned with” (2010, p. 13).

This allows him to inquire what is territory historically, or slightly more precisely to provide a genealogical account, defined as “a historical interrogation of the conditions of possibility of things being as they are” or a history of the present (Elden, 2010, p. 2).

(Vikki Bell recently gave a similar definition of genealogy “the idea that when we’re studying things historically, we’re doing so in order to study the values that we hold today. So genealogy submits our present truths to historical scrutiny and locates them at the level of practices, asking what’s happened.” From a BBC interview on the program “Thinking Allowed.”)

All of these are aspects of his claim that “territory is a political technology” explored in most depth in his most recent book The birth of territory (2013).

Elden, S. 2010. “Land, Terrain, Territory.” Progress in Human Geography. DOI: 10.1177/0309132510362603.

(12/18/13 Updated to correct citation.)

Kentucky election results: instant map!

How did Kentucky vote in last night’s election?

Using AP data downloaded from here, I made an instant map in ArcGIS 10.1 of the results by county:

The map shows the spatial distribution of voting percentage by county for President Obama.

Rather than just doing a simple choropleth map, it’s often better to look at how a place differs from the average to get a measure of the different politics of the state. So here you can see by county where votes were very much lower for Obama (brown shading) and higher for Obama (light blues).

Here’s a regular choropleth map of percent of the vote by county; showing a clear Romney victory (via NYT, follow link to interactive version). As you can see the maps are (and should be) broadly similar. However, the first map indicates the situation in a bit more detail, for say redistricting or GOTV purposes.

Why you should bet on an Obama victory

With the election in 3 days, we are seeing a continued narrative of a tied or very close race. If you read Media Matters, the explanation for this narrative is not that it is true, but that the media requires and in some sense produces a close race in order to , well, frankly, in order to increase sales.

Into this fray comes a new debate about whether in fact the race is close, and whether polling data is showing that it is close. Specifically, the reports of Five Thirty-Eight, run by Nate Silver, and now hosted at the New York Times. Silver’s data show that the race is heavily favoring Obama, who he says has a 4-in-5 chance of winning on Tuesday.

The 538 status of Nov. 3.

On the other hand are a bunch of commentators who are either saying that this is a close race or that Romney will win. Not just partisan observers like Dick Morris and Karl Rove, but journalists too. Perhaps even many ordinary people on the right also expect Romney to win. Obviously they can’t both be right, so the question is, will the right conclusion be reached by those who were wrong about why they were wrong? Furthermore, if they are right, will they reach the correct conclusion about why the other guy was wrong? Going on past evidence, I’d have to say no!

–Like it or not, polls are usually correct, and they are even corrector when you’re dealing in the big picture and multiple polls. (They may miss specific local results or even a whole state. If I recall correctly, FiveThirtyEight missed correctly calling one state by 1% in the last election.)

–The success of polling doesn’t mean that good journalism can play no role. As always, but perhaps especially during an election, investigative journalism is needed to get behind the sound bites and information that campaigns release.

–I wish people would ask, who do you think will win, rather than who do you want to win. It’s probably more accurate about the outcome, especially if you are asked to put real money on it. At Intrade, they do exactly that. Right now it gives Obama a 67.1% chance of winning. That’s lower than FiveThirtyEight’s current 83.7% chance, but still a bet I’d want to take.

–What about the “black swan” effect my friends in the intel community are always worried about? Yes, there could be some startling last minute crisis or disclosure. But it’s getting awfully late. Here’s an election advantage that the intel guys don’t have: there’s a definite deadline by which the estimates are good for. Presumably in the intel world, estimates have to be made over indefinite time periods. FiveThirtyEight only has to be good through 7PM on Tuesday.

–What about bias? Ah, yes, voter fraud right? No, I doubt it. Rather the polls themselves might be biased, because they have to make assumptions. One important assumption is how to model the sample against the larger electorate. Do you take likely voters or registered voters? Do you ensure that Dems are <50% of the sample the Republican areas, and if so by how much? Without these assumptions the polls will be less representative. The same logic goes into the decennial census: sampling rather than brute force-attempt at headcount is going to be more accurate. (The well-known effect of the “undercount” in the Census means that certain populations are always undercounted, however hard you try to count everybody.)

Another form of bias, again more likely than organised voter fraud, is trouble with the electronic voting machines such as Diebold. There’s no doubt this goes on (Ohio being the most well-known case) but it’s not as clear how widespread it is.

So if you want to make some money, bet on Obama being re-elected president. Good news no doubt for liberals who’ve bought into the “close race” narrative. But will the conservatives and the journalists with a vested interest in a close race make the correct conclusion? Here’s Silver’s parting shot:

Nevertheless, these arguments are potentially more intellectually coherent than the ones that propose that the leader in the race is “too close to call.” It isn’t. If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.


What is the top issue of our time?

Wen Stephenson’s piece in the Phoenix is getting a lot of attention right now. Stephenson argues that there is a massive culture of shirking going on about global climate change–among journalists. He argues, very passionately, that climate change is the top issue of our times, and that even in an election, media coverage of the issue is nowhere near where it needs to be: which is that this is an emergency demanding crisis-level coverage.

James Fallows of the Atlantic has already said about the piece:

At a time when both parties are saying that this is an “exceptionally important” election, yet neither will even discuss an issue that (I contend) will loom larger in historical accounts of this era than 99 percent of what is discussed in speeches, news analyses, and debates, this article is worth reading and thinking about.

I can’t do anything about media coverage, although the people I read (eg Jay Rosen) felt it was true. Recently, Twitter put up a new instant-mapping capability on the political campaigns (what is Obama saying about… what is Romney saying about…). Here’s the result for “climate”:


First, only one campaign is even talking about climate–the Obama campaign. Second, even that campaign barely mentions it on Twitter–just two tweets in fact (the bars in blue under the @barackObama label).

But what are Americans saying? How big of an issue are things like climate change, the environment and so on? If you ask people what their top issues of concern are the answer is clearly the economy. Take a look at these polls on “voting issues” for example. The economy is always the top issue, often by considerable margins. (Sidenote to demagogues: security, terrorism and immigration poll at less than 10 percent.)

When the environment is polled as an issue, again, large majorities are worried about it, and want something done about it. Very large majorities: nearly 70% of people in a typical poll said the environment is worse off compared to 10 years ago. On global warming, this poll shows that it’s happening now, and we did it:

“And from what you have heard or read, do you believe increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century are due more to the effects of pollution from human activities, or natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities?” Options rotated
Unsure . .
% % % . .
3/8-11/12 53 41 6 . .
3/3-6/11 52 43 5 . .
3/4-7/10 50 46 5 . .
3/6-9/08 58 38 5 . .
3/11-14/07 61 35 5 . .
3/13-16/06 58 36 6 . .
3/3-5/03 61 33 6 . .

So from 2003-2012, between 53 and 61 percent think it is the result of human activities; a pretty stubborn number.

Here’s my point: Given all this, where are geographers on the issue?

The environment is by far and away the clearest issue that we work on that is in the minds of the public. They are already convinced global climate change is happening and that it is anthropogenic. So I am heartened by looking at “sustainability” as a key word at last year’s AAG (this year’s is not yet searchable). There were sessions on investigating sustainability of particular regions such as Alaska, applications of it, and critiques of it as a way that capitalism reproduces itself though an emphasis on consumption.

Like Stephenson though, I wonder to what extent we’re understanding it as a crisis-level event, an emergency that is still going on (as Holly says on Red Dwarf).

“Revenge of Geography” Book Launch

A book launch for The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, by Robert D. Kaplan will be held next week in DC.

The book is an expansion of Kaplan’s article in the Atlantic, and has already attracted the attention of geographers in a 2009 piece in the journal Human Geography (paywall) by John Morrissey, Simon Dalby, Gerry Kearns, and Gerard Toal.

This looks like being a big splashy affair, with David Ignatius of the Washington Post hosting an event at the Willard InterContinental Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Interesting to see that Kaplan is now “Chief Geopolitical Analyst” with Stratfor, the security firm which had its emails hacked earlier this year.

Christaller and Nazism

It is well known among philosophers that Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party and that this is an event that has to be taken into account in any interpretation of his work. For some people as Richard Polt points out in his excellent book on Heidegger, this means that Heidegger’s thought need not be bothered with. As he notes, this is a case of “bad man = bad philosopher” (attributed to Gilbert Ryle). For others, the opposite might be true; that Heidegger’s membership and active involvement needs to be nuanced, put in context, or perhaps divorced from the work.

A similar although lesser known case exists in geography around the person of Walter Christaller. A new and I believe, highly significant paper on Christaller is forthcoming from the Annals of the AAG by my colleagues Trevor Barnes and Claudio Minca. The paper is about the links between spatial theory and Nazi political goals and how two men, Christaller and Carl Schmitt (a longtime intellectual favorite of paleo-conservatives like William Buckley) provided the intellectual justification for a “deterritorialization” (Christaller) and a “reterritorialization” (Schmitt). They call these processes “dark Nazi geographies.”

The paper, as you might expect from these two authors, is excellent. I am especially appreciative of the work Trevor Barnes has been doing on the intellectual history of geography in the Twentieth century.

One of the stranger offshoots of Christaller’s influence (which is not discussed in the paper) is the effect he had on William Bunge. As you may know, Bunge’s own life story in the discipline is storied (he gives a potted version in the Introduction to his Nuclear War Atlas). After prematurely leaving Wisconsin (where Hartshorne reputedly failed him out) he held positions at Iowa and eventually moved to Canada, where he drove a taxi. He wrote his influential contribution to the Quantitative Revolution, Theoretical Geography (again, after some difficulty in getting it published) and a tribute paper to Fred Kurt Schaefer after the latter’s death at 49 (Schaefer had escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938, first moving to the UK and later to Iowa).

Christaller wrote to Schaefer there, as this letter in 1952 from the AGS Archives (currently in Milwaukee at the AGSL) shows (if you know German, please roughly translate in the comments): Update: See Claudia’s translation in the Comments below.

Back to Bunge. Bunge was very appreciative of Christaller’s work, and cited him frequently as an influence and inspiration. He dedicated Theoretical Geography to Christaller. (Peter Gould also had many Bunge letters, some of which he provided in a seminar once, including Bunge’s FBI files! Bunge was very clear on who his enemies and friends were.)

Bunge was not unaware of Christaller’s Nazi connections. As a communist, this perhaps makes for a strange relationship. Bunge handled it by denying that Christaller was a fascist. He made this claim after an article appeared in the Canadian Geographer in 1970 by Hans Carol, who knew Christaller. Carol mentions that Christaller admitted to him in 1949 that he (Christaller):

lent his services to the Nazi regime in order to give advice on the creation of a hierarchical order of urban settlements for the newly won Polish territories.

(This is the subject of the Barnes and Minca paper, although they don’t mention this article.)

After the war, Christaller joined the Communist Party himself, and was refused a visa by the USA in 1963 for a “grand tour” Edward Ullman had arranged for him.

For Bunge however it was not possible for Christaller to be a fascist. Writing in  Ontario Geography in 1977 in (belated) reply to the Carol piece, he states that Christaller was a man of science and since fascists can’t be scientists then Christaller was not a fascist. He also notes his Communist party membership and the visa ban. Bunge argues that the USA would have admitted him  if he’d been a Fascist, citing Werner Von Braun. Finally, he says we perhaps cannot ever really know what the case is, and cites “the bitter life [Christaller] had had to lead.”

Perhaps Trevor and Claudio’s paper can provide an advancement in this story.

If you’re interested in Schaefer on the other hand, the AGS Archives contain much material, donated by his wife. Bunge was very energetic in getting the proper tribute paid to Schaefer, writing to his family and anyone who may have known him (including Prime Minister Nehru of India for some reason). (His sister Alice’s letter is in the Archives and provides some of the information above.)

For example, he wrote a work on political geography, that was apparently never published  in which he takes up the debate between regional and systematic geography, chaffing Hartshorne slightly in the process:

It also contains work by the “Committee on Political Geography” lead by Richard Hartshorne! Schaefer apparently used this as reference material and the committee, which seemed to be operating in 1951, consists of Hartshorne, James, Platt, S. Jones, Kish, Broek, Proudfoot, Van Valkenberg. This appears to be draft material for American Geography, Inventory and Prospect, in which Hartshorne writes the Political Geography chapter.

By the way, this work was funded by the military: the ONR to be exact.

There’s lots of Schaefer–Hartshorne correspondence as well. (Hartshorne’s main papers are upstairs in the AGSL.)

WikiLeaks piece published

My contribution to a discussion forum entitled “Leaky Geopolitics” has just been published in Geopolitics 17: 681-711.

The idea behind this piece was to examine what WikiLeaks might mean geopolitically. The piece includes contributions by Simon Springer, Heather Chi, Fiona McConnell, Julie Cupples, Kevin Glynn, Barney Warf and Wes Attewell and was put together by Simon and Heather.

Here’s part of the Abstract:

The ‘Wikigate’ scandal thus represents an important occasion to take stock and think critically about what this case tells us about the nature of sovereign power, freedom of information, the limits of democracy, and importantly, the violence of the state when it attempts to manage these considerations. This forum explores a series of challenges inspired by WikiLeaks, which we hope will prompt further debate and reflection within critical geopolitics.

The only other discussion of WikiLeaks by geographers I’m aware of came from my colleagues here at UKY: Sue Roberts, Anna Secor and Matt Zook in Antipode earlier this year (we all seem to have liked the “leaky” metaphor!). What I think we were trying to do here was to explore alternatives to the state, and in my case, how the state “outsources” itself, especially (using Matt Hannah’s term) how there are emerging battles over “epistemic sovereignty.”

If the state is outsourcing itself in defense and intelligence contracting, the fact that WikiLeaks tried to play on the same ball field and got squelched reveals much about how the game is supposed to be played. A parallel I didn’t mention in the piece because it developed after we submitted it is the present “concern” about leaks, eg by Dianne Feinstein the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair. Over the past two months sher’s been all about stopping leaks of classified material, and yet when it suits her purpose she is apparently known to be a serial leaker herself.

This is my final paragraph:

An inescapable conclusion is not that sovereignty is being weakened or challenged, but rather that it is being outsourced and redeployed beyond the state. This is cause for concern, because there is less accountability in such arrangements, not to mention that contractors can work outside the military chain of command (for example, contractors are used to operate the CIA’s drone system). WikiLeaks is a minor but symbolically powerful figure operating among governmental outsourcing and acting as an outlet for whistle-blowers and providing oversight and transparency. Until (at a minimum) there is true participatory bi-directional dataveillance, we must continue to value WikiLeaks for these efforts.


Critchley calls for “new maps”

Simon Critchley calls for “new maps.” He should come to Kentucky! (Sorry about the website; we’re working on it).

“An anarchical order is not just desirable, but it is also feasible, practicable and enactable… Why are so many anarchists geographers, cartographers and explorers?.. We desperately need new maps.”

Matt Hannah Interviewed on Dark Territories

Exploring Geopolitics has an excellent lengthy interview with Matt Hannah on his latest book Dark Territories in the Information Age.

On the parallels to protest today:

It is perhaps more interesting to note that the parallels between issues of anonymity in physical public spaces and anonymity in the virtual world of electronic information were already clear then. At the same time that boycotters were challenging the state’s ‘epistemic sovereignty’, its right to know everything about the people living within its borders, struggles raged in the streets and courtrooms over whether protestors should be allowed to cover their faces and wear improvised armour (motorcycle helmets, etc.).

The right to see faces and to coerce or injure bodies, like the right to gather personal data and use it to coerce compliant behaviour, were explicitly seen as part of the emergence of what Hamburg activists called ‘cybernocracy’.

In the Occupy movements of today, these links remain clear, even if the strategic and tactical struggles have moved into new areas, for example in protestors’ use of their own camera drones to track police movements.

On the possibilities of “informatinal citizenship” (one of the big takeaways from the book, for me):

By the term informational citizenship I mean a way of seeing many different kinds of knowledge about people, not just knowledge about their preferences among official parties or candidates, as forms of political representation. To exercise informational citizenship would thus be to get involved actively in decisions about what kinds of knowledge are gathered about us, linked to what sorts of social ontologies, by what organisations, to what purpose, what is done with that knowledge, how is it stored and for how long, etc.