MiscPosted by Les Roberts 30 Mar, 2019 17:35:28 Very sad indeed to hear the news of Agnes Varda's passing. A truly inspirational figure and up there with the greats. I first became acquainted with her films when working on my PhD in the early 2000s and have been smitten ever since. The Gleaners and I remains one of my favourite films of any director. It never ceases to enchant and inspire. Other stand out films for me include Vagabond, Cleo from 5 to 7, Daguerreotypes, The Beaches of Agnes, and the recent Faces/Places. But for me all of her work stands up to repeated viewings. I was very fortunate to see her in conversation at FACT in Liverpool last year as part of the 2018 Liverpool Biennial. The photograph above was taken afterwards outside FACT. I will miss her playfulness, creativity and indefatigable energy.
I was invited to give a keynote talk at this one-day conference which was held on 27 March 2019 at the Cinematek (Royal Film Archive of Belgium) in Brussels. The conference was linked to the research activities of the Horizon 2020 I-Media-Cities project.
My presentation was titled: 'Spatial Anthropology and the Archive City: Locating Urban Cultural Memory'. Presentation slides can be accessed here.
MiscPosted by Les Roberts 20 Feb, 2019 22:39:10 It has been a while since I've uploaded anything to the 'Words' page on liminoids.com. I am not sure why this is other than the fish just not biting. Not that I've really been fishing as far as I am aware. What tends to happen with poetry writing is not so much that I go looking for words, it is rather that they come looking for me. At least, that is how it seems with the poem 'Gif'. Something snags and refuses to be dislodged. Because of this thing - an idea, feeling, disposition, whatever - making demands on my attention I am inexorably drawn in. Some sort of resolution then becomes necessary. As I started to work through whatever it was the image of a gif called on me to address it became apparent that it was a structure of feeling instilled by the nightmare that is the Brexit 'process' (if that doesn't over-dignify what is otherwise better described as a horrowshow) that was slowly beginning to reveal itself. I don't think the poem exclusively speaks to this, but the overwhelming feeling of 'stuckness' that seems to hang in the air is very much in tune with a national mood that is encapsulated by whatever it is that 'Brexit' has come to signify. It is not really a liminal condition as such because there is no obvious sense of an in-between state that is being traversed and negotiated. It seems more like a stutter, a tourettes-like spasm of time stuck on repeat.
Spatial Anthropology is now published in hardback and e-book formats (paperback is due in 2019). Great to see it in print finally. Unfortunately, due to some shoddy production work on the part of publishers Rowman & Littlefield, the book is missing the acknowledgements section I submitted. I am informed that this will be rectified for the paperback version and future print copies of the hardback (and the e-book). But for the time-being, the acknowledgements that would have been included in the book had R&L done their job properly are as follows:
SPATIAL ANTHROPOLOGY - ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
In reworked form, parts of this book
have been reproduced from articles published previously. ‘Castaway’ (Chapter 3)
appeared first as ‘The Rhythm of Non-places: Marooning the Embodied Self in
Depthless Space’, in Humanities, Volume 4 (2015). ‘Stalker’
(Chapter 4) is based on the article ‘The Bulger Case: a Spatial Story’,
in The Cartographic Journal, Volume 51 (2014). ‘Necrogeography’ (Chapter
7) was published as ‘The Cestrian Book of the Dead: a Necrogeographic Survey of
the Dee Estuary’, in Literary Mapping in the Digital Age, edited by David Cooper, Christopher
Donaldson and Patricia Murrieta-Flores (Routledge 2016). I am grateful to the
publishers of these articles and to the editors and anonymous reviewers for their
helpful comments and suggestions.
ideas developed throughout the book and the research projects around which much
of the discussion is based stretch back over a decade or more, pretty much
spanning the period that I have been living and working in the North West
(although, living as I do in North Wales – and Anglocentrism aside – this
regional descriptor has necessarily blurred edges). Accordingly, the people who
have in some way or another had a hand in the shaping of the book’s contents –
whether as interlocutors, colleagues, discussants, students, informants,
sceptics, detractors, fellow travellers, sounding boards – are far too numerous
to mention. However, I would especially like to thank Sara Cohen and Julia
Hallam, colleagues in the Institute of Popular Music (School of Music) and
Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool, with whom
I worked closely on a series of research projects between 2006 and 2013. Many
of the exploratory and formative incursions into what would only later acquire
the name ‘spatial anthropology’ came about as a result of opportunities, and
the intellectual freedoms they helped nurture, that were afforded me during
this period of immensely collaborative research activity. Also, in addition to
those who helped me secure permission to reproduce images (and to Rob Wright
for his captivating photograph of Stanlow Refinery included in Chapter 9), I am
grateful to Andy McCluskey and BMG for generously allowing me to reproduce
lyrics from the song ‘Stanlow’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a big
thank you too to Paul Gallagher from the Museum of Liverpool for his help with
As the bulk of Spatial Anthropology was written during a period of research leave
(February to September 2017) it would be remiss of me not to extend thanks to
the School of the Arts and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the
University of Liverpool for granting me the requisite space and time to bring
this project into fruition. I am grateful to series editors Neil Campbell and
Christine Berberich for accepting Spatial
Anthropology for publication as part of their excellent Place, Memory,
Affect series. Lastly, I am, as ever, indebted to Hazel Andrews for helping me
sharpen and refine my anthropological sensibilities, and for sharing the road
(and the load) as we ramble and rove through this world of our making.
In this blog I wish to sound off
about – or provide some considered critical reflections on, you decide which it
is – the process of obtaining research ethics approval for projects that employ
what may broadly be understood as autoethnographic methods. The subject matter
for this blog entry has come about as a result both of observing (in ways that,
I guess, qualify as autoethnographic reflection) how research ethics
considerations are being administered procedurally, and as part of a process of
broader critical engagement with questions of method as these apply to debates
and practices in the spatial humanities. In respect of the latter, these
thoughts have been developed in more expansive form in two publications that I
have been working on for the past year or so, a monograph Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal
Space (Roberts 2018a), and a special issue of the online open-access
journal Humanities, which I guest
edited under the title of: Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism
and the Poetics of ‘Making Do’ (Roberts 2017-18).
But first of all let me address the
titular reference to ‘covert autoethnography’. To date, the only occasion that
I have been confronted with this most intriguing of methodological strategies
is at a procedural level (i.e. as raised in the course of trying to secure
institutional ethics approval for a research project). My initial response when
presented with the idea of ‘covert autoethnography’ was one of bemusement.
Covert ethnography clearly makes
sense and is entirely legitimate to raise in relation to research ethics
considerations. But covert autoethnography
made about as much sense to me as the idea of covert masturbation (try it, see
if you can go all the way without noticing). Then I pondered it some more and,
while I would maintain that it is unquestionably a meaningless term and entirely
unworkable as a concern premised on the delivery of a practical response, it
does nevertheless raise interesting questions as to the where a line may be
unambiguously drawn between autoethnography and ethnography in terms of the
‘visibility’ of the researcher (as distinct from a ‘regular’ individual going
about his or her everyday business). This is where the masturbation analogy
doesn’t hold up so well. If I am autoethnographically attuned to the world of
phenomena to which my attention is turned, then, in the first instance at
least, it is myself to whom I am accountable. For it not to be so would be to
abrogate any sense of my being able to authoritatively reflect on matters based
on what I myself have directly observed and understood from what is going on in
the world around me. As with the art of sexual self-service, this does not pose
too great a problem when the activity is confined to the individual in his or
her capacity as a lone operator. The minute the autoethnographer and/or onanist
then plies their trade in public we are confronted with an altogether different
ethical scenario. One of these figures will end up being bundled into the back
of a police car and driven briskly away, and few would see this as any major
infringement on basic human rights. The other – the autoethnographer – is
saddled with a less conspicuous sense of social responsibility whereby any
potential ethical transgression is less (nakedly) transparent. Its realisation
can only ever be deferred if, indeed, it is ever made manifest at all. Any
ethical concerns will only be revealed as such to the extent that any other
parties that are drawn in to the orbit of the working autoethnographer feel
they have been misled or taken advantage of in some way. The autoethnographer
clearly does not operate in a social vacuum, and in that respect, unless making
their researcher ‘identity’ a matter of very evident disclosure (perhaps by
wearing some sort of hat with the words ‘autoethnographer at work’ emblazoned
on the peak, or by requesting written consent before engaging in any and every form
of social interaction), s/he is by definition acting ‘covertly’. And therein
lies the rub.
‘In practice,’ argues American communications
scholar Arthur Bochner, ‘autoethnography
is not so much a methodology as a way of life. It is a way of life that
acknowledges contingency, finitude, embeddedness in storied being, encounters
with Otherness, an appraisal of ethical and moral commitments, and a desire to
keep conversation going’ (2013: 53). If we accept that autoethnography is a way of life, or that, in practice,
it is indivisible from how we might routinely engage with others as part and
parcel of everyday social discourse, then clearly it is not a ‘method’ that can
(or should be) rigorously policed through the imposition of a standardised code
of institutional research ethics. The regrettable connotation that the term
‘covert autoethnography’ undoubtedly helps reinforce is the idea that the
practice of autoethnography can be neatly assigned to a specific social arena
or period of time. This does, of course, depend as to what (or where) constitutes
the ‘field’ of research practice in any given instance. But more often than not
the researcher does not find themselves in a position where they might
purposely declare ‘OK, I’m ready – now I am going into the field, putting my
autoethnographer’s hat on and getting down to business’. It generally doesn’t
work that way. Autoethnography may not necessarily be thought of as autoethnography at the time and place
from whence narrative observations have been reflexively drawn; it is entirely
conceivable that their significance may only be registered as noteworthy
retrospectively (i.e. in the form of autoethnographic memory).
In ‘Spatial bricolage: the art of
poetically making do’ (Roberts 2018b), I address these and related concerns
with specific reference to the idea of the ‘researcher-as-bricoleur’ (Denzin
and Lincoln 2011) and to an interdisciplinary understanding of space and
its practice as a form of bricolage:
of methodologically ‘making do’. As I note in that article, the eclecticism of
bricolage methods can invite accusations of superficiality and lack of rigour.
In such circumstances the researcher-as-bricoleur comes across as a
‘jack-of-all-trades’ (and, by implication, master of none), someone who plays
fast-and-loose with established research methods and paradigms. By way of
illustration, critical pedagogist Joe
Kincheloe describes problems he and his students encountered at university
committee meetings and job interviews when advancing the merits of bricolage
(and by extension interdisciplinary) approaches to their work as academics.
‘Implicit in the critique of interdisciplinarity’, he writes, ‘and thus of
bricolage as its manifestation in research is the assumption that
interdisciplinarity is by nature superficial’ (2001: 680-1). A commitment to
research eclecticism – of ‘allowing circumstance to shape methods employed’
(Kincheloe et al 2011: 168-9) – can thus be seen, by some, as inherently
problematic and something that shouldn’t really be encouraged. Putting what Norman
Denzin refers to as the ‘Performative-I on stage’ or seeking to get recognition
of autoethnography as a ‘disruptive practice’ (Denzin 2014: 11, 23) are not the
easiest of propositions to sell to the average ethics review committee or
institutional review board:
[institutional review board] framework assumes that one model of research fits
all forms of inquiry, but that is not the case. This model requires that
researchers fill out forms concerning subjects’ informed consent, the risks and
benefits of the research for subjects, confidentiality, and voluntary
participation. The model also presumes a static, monolithic view of the human
subject. Performance autoethnography, for example, falls outside this model…
Participation is entirely voluntary, hence there is no need for subjects to
sign forms indicating that their consent is ‘informed.’ The activities that
makes up the research are participatory; that is, they are performative, collaborative,
and action and praxis based. (Denzin 2003: 249-250)
In a similar vein, bringing a
performative and autoethnographic sensibility to the sociocultural study of
space is to take it as read that our understanding and experience of space is
itself action and praxis based. To question
a space by the simple act of stepping into it is, by definition, already a
breach of boundaries. We cannot roam wherever we like whenever we like but
where lines are ‘legitimately’ drawn in any given scenario is fuzzy at best.
However much (or little) truck a university ethics committee might have with
the argument that researchers themselves should be at liberty to exercise some
degree of ethical circumspection, the fact remains that, within the framework
of what is deemed possible (if not necessarily defensible), the responsibility
for action lies with the actor. As Marilys
Guillemin and Lynn Gillam point out, procedural ethics and ‘ethics in
practice’ are not the same thing; the latter – the day-to-day ethical issues
that arise during the course of research activity – are subject to the
reflexive considerations that the researcher is faced with as s/he responds to
events and experiences as they present themselves in practice. Reflexivity thus
‘comes into play in the field, where
research ethics committees are not accessible’ (2004: 274), making it,
from a procedural point of view (i.e. that of a research ethics committee or
institutional review board), a concept that is not even afforded any ethical
significance (as if the ethical ‘work’ can be got out of the way at committee
stage and any subsequent reflexivity on the part of the researcher restricted
to matters solely practical, not ethical).
Reflexivity lies at the core of how
and why the autoethnographer does what s/he does. Attention is thrown back on
to the researcher in the field, not as an exercise in self-indulgence, but to
recognise that the process of ‘making do’ requires the researcher to step in to
any given space in ways that her presence
– her creativity and performance; her intersubjectivity; her body; her
experience – becomes constitutive of
that space. In this respect, the spatial bricoleur is as autoethnographically
invested in the space or spaces he immerses himself in as he is in any other
that are routinely encountered in everyday life. For the autoethnographer ‘in
the field’ it is no more possible to maintain a non-dialogical distinction
between procedural ethics and ethics-in-practice as it is in any other
socio-spatial context. This does not mean that ethical considerations made ‘in
practice’ automatically trump those made procedurally, or that they extend
licence, by default, to the reflexively aware researcher. What it does point to
is the pedagogic presumption of what Denzin calls a ‘communitarian dialogical ethic of care and responsibility. It
presumes that performances occur in sacred aesthetic spaces where research does not operate as a dirty
word’ (2014: 80, emphasis in original). On the part of the institution, it may
not be that the risks themselves are considered high or of any immediate concern
in terms of the research outline being proposed. It may instead simply be that
the very idea of academic research as ‘bricolage’ or that methods may be
applied in an ‘eclectic’ fashion (or, indeed, that the merits of chance,
provocation or performativity are being earnestly promoted) is enough to raise
the alarm bells (not to mention the eyebrows of administrators and the legions
of bureaucrats who have secured a well-established foothold in the neoliberal
academy). On that basis alone, the case for making autoethnography and the
researcher-as-bricoleur as a focus of critical discussion is, I am suggesting,
persuasive and cogent.
In seeking to cast a much-needed
critical spotlight on the regime of qualitative research ethics scrutiny it is
important to stress that my intention is not in any way to play down the seriousness
of ethical matters as they relate to academic research practices and methods.
Nor is it to suggest that research ethics should be wrested free from all forms
of procedural governance and administration. My aim is not even to make the
rather obvious point that the current system of research ethics scrutiny is
demonstrably out of step with the practical realities faced by many academics
and their students working in research environments where eclecticism,
interdisciplinarity, some degree of bricolage, or of creativity and
performativity, has long been the norm. Rather than making a case against the
imposition of research ethics frameworks, my intention, if anything, is the
opposite. It is to make the case for research ethics to be thought about
differently; to persuade those that need persuading that procedural ethics and
ethics-in-practice are, or should be, a conversation: an open, flexible, and
above all dialogical ethic of care and responsibility. Procedural ethics should
not be just an instrumental mechanism to dictate what ethics-in-practice
unbendingly need to comply with, with all the inflexibility and standardisation
that such a one-way discourse helps cement. A procedural ethics that
understands and respects the idea of experiential ethics-in-practice is one
that recognises that qualitative researchers, as with any other academic,
whatever their methodological orientation, are qualified professionals whose
skill-set, by definition, extends to their having to make ethical judgements
and reflexive decisions ‘on the go’ (that is to say: in practice). They do not park their ethical responsibilities once
they’ve been given institutional approval and set out for the field with the
knowledge that they’ve been ‘cleared’ for ethically appropriate action. They
bring ethics to their practice as critically reflexive and socially engaged
researchers whose responsibility, as they see it, also extends to the provision
and sustainability of productive research environments for their students. A
procedural ethics that understands and respects this ethos is one that
recognises that students also need to be given the space to work through
ethics-in-practice as part of their own journey towards becoming critically
reflexive and socially engaged citizens, wherever their professional careers
may take them. From a critical pedagogical standpoint, talk of ‘covert
autoethnography’, with its Orwellian overtones (the implication that critical
reflection should be held in check lest the very act of thinking infringes on
the rights of others) thus more than justifies a committed ethical response. In
making the case for ethics-in-practice, this blog provides a small, but
hopefully not too insignificant contribution to this unfolding conversation.
Roberts, April 2018
Bochner, Arthur P. 2013. ‘Putting
Meanings into Motion: Autoethnography’s Existential Calling’, in Stacy Holman
Jones, Tony E. Adams, Carolyn Ellis (eds.), Handbook
of Autoethnography. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, pp. 50-56.
Denzin, Norman K. 2003. Performance
Ethnography: Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of Culture. London: SAGE.
Denzin, Norman K. 2014. Interpretive
Autoethnography. 2nd Edition. London: SAGE.
Denzin, Norman K. and Yvonna S. Lincoln. 2011. ‘Introduction: The
Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research’, in Norman K. Denzin and
Yvonna S. Lincoln (eds.), The Sage
Handbook of Qualitative Research. 4th Edition. London: SAGE, pp. 1-19.
Kincheloe, Joe, Peter McLaren and Shirley R. Steinberg. 2011. ‘Critical Pedagogy and Qualitative Research:
Moving to the Bricolage’, in Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln
(eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative
Research. 4th Edition. London: SAGE, pp. 163-177.
Les Roberts. 2018b. ‘Spatial bricolage: the art of poetically making do’,
in Les Roberts (ed.), Special Issue on 'Spatial Bricolage: Methodological
Eclecticism and the Poetics of "Making Do"', Humanities,
In the meantime, I have started work on the next monograph, a provisional outline of which is as follows:
Posthuman Buddhism is a new book project currently in development.
Ideas for the monograph have their root in a number of different theoretical domains
but share common ground insofar as they variously confront questions of
selfhood and embodiment in the digital age. The book approaches these questions
by framing its discussion around philosophical and anthropological perspectives
that span two very different fields of study. Firstly, addressing debates in
communication studies that explore phenomenological and non-media-centric approaches
to digital media practices, Posthuman
Buddhism provides insights into the embodied materialities of posthuman
media cultures, where digital communications serve as much an ontological as
instrumental function (provoking the question ‘what does it mean to be
posthuman in the digital media age?’). Secondly, grappling with some of the
spatial and temporal implications of posthuman media materialities, Posthuman Buddhism draws on ideas that
speak to, and are illuminated by, strands of Buddhist thought and practice
(provoking the question ‘what does it mean to be “mindful” in the digital media
The motivation for writing the
book stems from a desire to explore more fully a number of interrelated themes,
some of which have started to feed into content covered on a course I teach at
the University of Liverpool called Media,
Self and Society (which, from 2018-19, will be re-named Posthuman Culture and Society and
co-taught with my colleague David Hill). The introductory lecture on the course
was written in the days following the death of David Bowie in January 2016. Responding
to that event, the lecture sought to examine concepts of the ‘postmodern self’
by reflecting, in part, on the shape-shifting and fluid identities that were a
hallmark of Bowie’s cultural persona. It did so by bringing the idea of
creative changefulness, exemplified by Bowie, into dialogue with Buddhist
notions of impermanence and non-self (and by briefly touching on Bowie’s own
long-standing flirtation with Buddhism). Posthuman
Buddhism builds on these introductory reflections on culture, media and the
postmodern self to consider broader issues that draw together posthuman media
materialities and Buddhist praxis. These include the use of digital devices and
mindfulness apps as tools to aid meditation practice; the rhythmanalytical and
experiential affects of ‘slow media’ on embodied understandings of time; and
the production and consumption of mediated ‘spaciousness’ and its impacts on
everyday phenomenologies of the self.
The Eighth International Tourism and Media (ITAM) Conference
5-7th July, 2018 Liverpool, UK
The Production of Location
The eighth ITAM conference aim is to continue the network’s
exploration of new ideas and debates sprung from the intersection between
tourism industries and practices and those that broadly relate to the fields of
media and communication. In this vein, the conference will aim to provide a
forum where, taking their lead from Rodanthi Tzanelli’s concept of ‘global sign
industries’ (2007), interdisciplinary research conversations gather pace around
what are increasingly convergent fields of study and practice. While trends in
scholarship on tourism and media are often reflective of discreet disciplinary
dispositions, particularly those linked to perspectives in marketing and business,
the necessarily open and ‘undisciplined’ terrain that defines the critical
landscapes of media and tourism today demands a similarly open and
undisciplined approach to keep pace with what is an ever-shifting and
multi-stranded field of study.
The overarching theme of this conference is The Production
of Location and we invite contributions that critically address questions of
cultural brokerage in media tourism whilst continuing to welcome submissions
from the inter- and cross-disciplinary traffic that informs the research on
media and tourism and addresses a range of topics pertinent to both areas.
Dates: 5-7th July 2018
Location: School of the Arts, University of Liverpool, UK.
and Memoryis a global
field recording & sound art work that presents both the present
reality of a place, but also its imagined, alternative counterpart – remixing
the world, one sound at at time.
faithful field recording document on the sound map is accompanied by a
reimagination or an interpretation that imagines that place and time as
somewhere else, somewhere new.
listener can choose to explore locations through their actual sounds, to
explore reimagined interpretations of what those places could be – or to
flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.
There are currently over 1,400 sounds featured on the sound map, spread over
more than 55 countries.
sounds cover parts of the world as diverse as the hubbub of San Francisco’s
main station, traditional fishing songs on Lake Turkana, the sound of computer
data centres in Birmingham, spiritual temple chanting in New Taipei City or the
hum of the vaporetto engines in Venice.
sonic reimaginings or reinterpretations can take any form, and
include musical versions, slabs of ambient music, rhythm-driven electronica
tracks, vocal cut-ups, abstract noise pieces, subtle EQing and effects, layering
of different location sounds and much more.
The project is completely open to submissions from field recordists,
sound artists, musicians or anyone with an interest in exploring sound
worldwide – more than 350 contributors have
got involved so far.
Maps & MappingPosted by Les Roberts 13 Feb, 2017 10:37:19 Australia’s inland sea: Some maps are purely speculative, but the cartography can be striking nonetheless. This map accompanies Thomas J Maslen’s The Friend of Australia (1830), a work of pure theory in which the English writer suggests that there could be a wealth of river and fertile paradise lying hidden in the heart of Australia. The centrepiece of this colonial fantasy is a great lake the size of a small sea, placed plum in the desolate centre of what is now known as the Simpson Desert.
The history of cartography is littered with mistakes, myths and mendacity. From the magnetic mountain at the north pole to Australia’s inland sea, Edward Brooke-Hitching charts five centuries of misrepresentative maps...
More Than Pedestrian: Psychogeography, Creative Walking and Spatial Justice
It is sixty years since Debord wrote The Theory of The
Dérive, and psychogeography has evolved in many different artistic, activist
and academic directions, often at an apparent loss of its political intentions.
However many recent practitioners have been using walking as way to interrogate,
destabilise and affectively remap space. Many now recognise that there is an
emerging “new psychogeography” identified by Richardson (2015) as being,
amongst other things, heterogeneous, critical, strategic, and somatic. This
richness and diversity is embodied in members of the Walking Artists Network.
They exhibit a wealth of contemporary creative walking, much of which is at
least in part inspired by psychogeography. This suggests the dérive has the
potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of
privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate
increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private. This session aims to
explore what the theory and practice of psychogeography and creative walking can
offer Urban Studies.
This call is for panellists offering papers on the following
areas of walking practice and psychogeography:
• How psychogeography and creative walking practices can
engage with and interrogate the urban environment
• New interpretations of Situtationist ideas
• Innovations, issues and debates around creative walking
• Issues of urban spatial injustice highlighted via
imaginary, temporary and mobile spaces
• Activist, community and radical mapping practices
The presentations will be followed by a roundtable
discussion and questions from the audience.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of the subject we are
very open to presenters who have audio visual material or unconventional
Please send abstracts (approximately 300-500 words) to both
the session convenor Morag Rose, The University of Sheffield email@example.com and
the conference organisers rc21@Leeds.ac.uk Deadline
10th March 2017
Currently working on a co-authored article (with artist David Jacques). This is for a forthcoming book, Practising Place, being edited by Elaine Speight. The abstract for our article is below. Above is the video 'Oil is the Devil's Excrement' (David Jacques, 2016, 11m 46s).
is the Devil’s Excrement: a confluence of trajectories
Les Roberts and David Jacques
In this chapter we sketch the dovetailing of
ideas and critical interventions that have sprung from the politico-magical
properties of oil. Ruminations on death, putrefaction, myth and geo-politics
vie with those that take as their starting point the spatio-temporal rhythms of
a petrochemical installation situated on the banks of the River Mersey. While
each of these trajectories represents an invocatory response to the same diabolical
putrescence visited upon the dying Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, founder of OPEC (a
visitation that was to usher a final ‘dark night of the soul’), at the same
time they carve out their own singular, yet intertwined pathways through the
sump of critical terrain that probes oil’s dark sentience and socio-political
burden. In the hands of Jacques we plunge headlong into the defecatory slipstream,
anointing ourselves by way of immersion
and infusion in a substance whose alchemical power lies in its capacity to tap
and drill deep into the geological bedrock of the human soul. Roberts, on the other
hand, skirts the perimeter fences of an industrial colossus that dwarfs the
surrounding landscapes as commandingly as it harbours and secretes a (death’s)
cargo that remains impenetrable: a secret that lies beyond the reach of those
who can but yield to its gift. In this vein, the chapter sees Jacques set out
the ground-work for a creative process whereby Alfonzo is envisioned through an
interweaving of literary, scientific and mythical threads which link the quest
for power and wealth with traditional stories of the ‘devil-pact’, interpreted
as critiques of Capital by the Marxist Anthropologist Michel Taussig. By way of
countervailing narrative, for his part, the chapter follows Roberts as he sets
out, bricoleur-style, to weave auto-ethnographic yarns out of a process of
immersive, site-specific engagement with Stanlow refinery in Cheshire.
Conceived of as a form of pilgrimage, like Jacques, his quest is one bent on
ritual invocation. Oil as foil, creatively, politically or as poetic license.
Turning shit into gold need not be the preserve of the oil industry.
unmappable is a documentary short that weaves together the life and work of iconoclastic psychogeographer and convicted sex offender, Denis Wood. This meditative portrait will unveil the inner workings of a man whose work is lauded as poetic, artful and innovative – a man who unapologetically pushes boundaries both personally and professionally. The film explores the events that have defined his life by pointing at ideas, thoughts and beliefs that we usually do not think of as being mappable or explainable.
"To encounter is to find, to capture, to steal, but there is no method for finding, only a long preparation. Stealing is the contrary to plagiarizing, copying, imitating or doing as. The capture is always a double-capture, the stealing, a double-stealing, and this is what makes not something mutual, but an asymmetrical block, an a-parallel evolution, marriages, always 'outside' or 'in-between'."
-Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues Cartography: a provisional definition To geographers, cartography-distinct from maps which are representations of a static whole -is a drawing that accompanies and creates itself at the same time as the transformation movements of the landscape.
Psychosocial landscapes can also have cartography. Cartography, in this case, accompanies and creates itself at the same time as the dismantlement of certain worlds-its loss of sense-and the formation of other worlds. Worlds that create themselves to express contemporary affects, in relation to which the cogent universes became obsolete.
If the task of a cartographer is to provide a language to demanding affects, it is basically expected of him that he would be immersed in the intensities of his time, and aware of the languages he encounters, he devour those which seem to him possible elements for the composition of those cartographies that deem themselves necessary.
The cartographer is first and foremost an anthropophagite.
The practice of a cartographer refers to, fundamentally, the strategies of the formations of desire in the social field. And little does it matter which sectors of the social life he chooses as an object. What matters is that he remains alert to the strategies of desire in any phenomenon of the human existence that he sets out to explore: from social movements, formalized or not, the mutations of collective sensitivity, violence, delinquency. . . up to unconscious ghosts and the clinical profiles of individuals, groups and masses, whether institutionalized or not.
Similarly, little matters the theoretical references of the cartographer. What matters is that, for him, theory is always cartography-and, thus being, it creates itself jointly with the landscapes whose formation he accompanies (including, naturally, the theory introduced here). For that, the cartographer absorbs matters from any source. He has no racism whatsoever regarding frequency, language or style. All that may provide a language to the movements of desire, all that may serve to coin matter of expression and create sense, is welcomed by him. All entries are good, as long as the exits are multiple. For this reason the cartographer makes use of the most varied sources, including sources not solely written nor solely theoretical. Their conceptual operators may equally arise from a film as from a conversation or a philosophy treatise. The cartographer is a true anthropophagite: he lives of expropriation, appropriation, devourment and delivery, transvalorized. He is always searching for nourishment to compose his cartographies. This is the criterion for his choices: to discover which matters of expression, mixed to which others, which language compositions favor the passage of intensities that traverse his body in the encounter with the bodies he intends to understand. In fact, "to understand", for the cartographer, has no relation whatsoever with explaining and least of all with revealing. For him there is nothing high up there-skies of transcendence-, nor down under-the mists of essence. What there is high up there, underneath and everywhere are intensities looking for expression. And what he wants is to dive into the geography of affects and, at the same time, invent bridges to undertake his crossing: bridges of language.
We see that language, for the cartographer, is not a vehicle of messages-and-salvation. It is, in itself, creation of worlds. Flying carpet. . . Vehicle that promotes the transition to new worlds; new forms of history. We may even say that in the cartographer's practice history and geography integrate themselves.
This allows us to make two further observations: the problem, for the cartographer, is not that of the false-or-true, nor of the theoretical-or-empirical, rather it is that of the vitalizing-or-destructive, active-or-reactive. What he wants is to participate, embark in the constitution of existential territories, constitution of reality. Implicitly, it is obvious that, at least in his happiest moments, he does not fear the movement. He allows his body to vibrate in all possible frequencies and keeps inventing positions from which these vibrations may find sounds, passage channels, a lift towards existentialization. He accepts life and surrenders. With body-and-language.
It would remain to know which are the cartographer's procedures. Well, these do not matter either, for he knows that he must "invent them" based on what the context in which he finds himself demands. For this reason he does not follow any type of normalized protocol.
What defines, therefore, the profile of the cartographer is exclusively a type of sensitivity, which he sets himself to make prevalent, wherever possible, in his work. What he wants is to place himself, whenever possible, in the surroundings of the cartographies' mutations, a position which allows him to welcome the finite unlimited character of the process of production of reality that is the desire. For this to be possible, he makes use of a "hybrid compound," made out of his eye, of course, but also, and simultaneously, of his vibrating body, for what he looks for is to apprehend the movement that arises from the fecund tension between flux and representation: flux of intensities escaping from the plan of organization of territories, disorienting its cartographies, disrupting its representations and, in this way, representations stagnating the flux, channeling the intensities, giving them sense. It's because the cartographer knows there is no other way: this permanent challenge is itself the motor of the creation of sense. A necessary challenge-and, in any way, insurmountable-of the vigilant coexistence between macro and micropolitics, complementary and inseparable in the production of psychosocial reality. He knows that the strategies of this coexistence are countless-peaceful merely in brief and fleeting moments of the creation of sense; as well as countless are the worlds that each one engenders. This is basically what interests him.
Since it is not possible to define his method (not in the sense of theoretical reference, nor in that of technical procedure) but, only, his sensitivity, we may ask ourselves: what type of equipment does the cartographer take, when he sets afield?
What the cartographer carries in his pocket is very simple: a criterion, a principle, a rule and a brief route of preoccupations-this, each cartographer defines and redefines to himself, constantly.
You already know the evaluation criterion of the cartographer: it is that of the degree of intimacy that each one allows oneself, at each moment, with the finite unlimited character that desire prints on the desirous human condition and its fears. It is that of the value that is given to each one of the movements of desire. In other words, the criterion of the cartographer is, fundamentally, the degree of openness towards the life that each one allows oneself at each moment. His criterion takes as its premise its principle.
The principle of the cartographer is extra-moral: the expansion of life is his basic and exclusive parameter, and never a cartography of any kind, taken for a map. What interests him in situations with which he deals is to what extent life is finding channels of effectuation. It may even be said that his principle is an antiprinciple: a principle that obliges him to constantly change his principles. For both his criterion as well as his principle are vital and not moral.
And his rule? He has only one: it is a sort of "golden rule." It provides elasticity to his criterion and his principle: the cartographer knows that it is always in the name of life, and of its defense, that strategies are invented, no matter how preposterous. He never forgets that there is a limit to how much can be borne, at each moment, the intimacy with the finite unlimited, the base of his criterion: a limit of tolerance for the disorientation and reorientation of affects, a "threshold of deterritorialization." He always evaluates the extent to which the defenses that are being used serve or not to protect life. We could name his instrument of evaluation the "threshold of possible disenchantment," since, after all, this deals with evaluating how much can be borne, in each situation, the disenchantment of the masks which are constituting us, their loss of sense, our disillusion. How much can disenchantment be borne so as to free those recently emerged affects to invest in other matters of expression, and with this allow new masks to be created, new senses. Or, on the contrary, the extent it is being upheld for not being able to bear this process. Of course this kind of evaluation has nothing to do with mathematical calculations, standards or measures, but with that which the vibrating body captures in the air: a type of feeling that varies completely based on the singularity of each situation, including the limit of tolerance of the vibrating body itself that is evaluating, in relation to the situation that is being evaluated. The rule of the cartographer is thus very simple: never forget to consider this "threshold." Rule of prudence. Rule of gentleness towards life. Rule that expedites yet does not attenuate his principle: this rule allows him to discriminate the degrees of danger and potency, functioning as a warning sign whenever necessary. Because after a certain limit-which the vibrating body recognizes quite well-the reactivity of the forces ceases to be reconvertible in activity and begins to act in the sense of pure destruction of one's self and/or of the other: when this happens, the cartographer, in the name of life, can and must be absolutely impious.
With these informations in hand, we can attempt to better define the practice of the cartographer. We affirmed that it refers fundamentally to the strategies of the formation of desire in the social field. Now we may say that it is, in itself, a space of active exercise of such strategies. A space of the emergence of nameless intensities, a space of incubation of new sensitivities and new languages throughout time. From this perspective, the analysis of desire ultimately refers to the choice of how to live, to the choice of criteria with which the social, the real social, is invented. In other words, it refers to the choice of new worlds, new societies. Here, the practice of the cartographer is immediately political.
Extracted from Suely Rolnik, Cartografia sentimental, transformaç§es contemporéneas do desejo, Sâo Paulo: Editora Estaçâo Liberdade, 1989, p.15-16; 66-72, translated from the Portuguese by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro.
Translated by Robert Bononno
Foreword by Stuart Elden
Minnesota Press 2017.
One of the most
influential Marxist theorists of the twentieth century, Henri Lefebvre first
published Marxist Thought and the City in French in 1972,
marking a pivotal point in his evolution as a thinker and an important
precursor to his groundbreaking work of urban sociology, The Production
of Space. Marxist Thought and the City—inwhich he reviews the
work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for commentary and analysis on the life
and growth of the city—now appears in English for the first time.
Rooted in orthodox
Marxism’s analyses of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production, with
extensive quotations from the works of Marx and Engels, this book describes the
city’s transition from life under feudalism to modern industrial capitalism. In
doing so it highlights the various forces that sought to maintain power in the
struggles between the medieval aristocracy and the urban guilds, amid the
growth of banking and capital.
background and supplementary material to Lefebvre’s other books, including The
Urban Revolution and Right to the City, Marxist Thought and
the City is indispensable for students and scholars of urbanism,
Marxism, social geography, early modern history, and the history of economic
Maps & MappingPosted by Les Roberts 18 Jan, 2017 13:02:40 A Cartographic Turn: Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences Jacques Lévy (ed.) EPFL Press (2016)
The Cartographic Turn contains contributions on maps and cartography from multiple authors from various disciplines: geography, demography, cartography, art theory, architecture and philosophy. While such diversity could imply that this book is a collection of independent contributions gathered only by their topic, this impression would be misleading. Rather, this book develops four simple propositions that actually can be streamlined into a single concept expressed through four different perspectives. Above all, maps convey rational, aesthetic, ethical and personal messages, at times separately but more often in unison, and this mix offers ample fields for studying social complexity. Beyond that, maps are, by their very existence, both representations of pre-existing spaces and creations of new spaces. Consequently, the historical or anthropological analysis of maps as semantic objects should be connected to the production of new maps, namely those that take advantage of the powerful tools provided by digital technology. Finally, the issues of contemporary mapping should be read in light of recent innovations within social sciences on space. Before this cartographic turn, technicians, historians, users and exegetes were distinct and decidedly turned away from each other.The era of the singular engineer-designed map is past. Maps have gained many new actors, and these actors are critical thinkers. This book would modestly like to contribute to a durable association between mapping and reflexivity. Cartographers, historians of cartography, geographers, visual scientists and artists, social scientists as well as advanced students in these disciplines will appreciate and benefit from reading The Cartographic Turn. Contents
Foreword (Rob Kitchin)
Introduction: Mapping Is Thinkable, Thinking Is Mappable (Jacques Lévy)
Part 1: Map as Resource – When Maps Reflect (Christian Jacob) – Maps in Perspective, What can philosophy learn from experimental maps in contemporary art? (Patrice Maniglier) – The Cartographic Dimension of Contemporary Art (Marie-Ange Brayer) – What the Atlas Does to the Map (Elsa Chavinier, Carole Lanoix, Jacques Lévy and Véronique Mauron)
Part 2: Map as Language – Space for Reason (Jacques Lévy)
Cartographic Semiosis: Reality as Representation (Emanuela Casti) – Doing the Right Map? Cognitive and/or Ethical Choices (Jacques Lévy and Elsa Chavinier)
Part 3: Where Are We on the Map? – Mapping Ethics (Jacques Lévy) – A Reappraisal of the Ecological Fallacy – Mapping Otherness (Emanuela Casti) – Mapping the Global Mobile Space: The Nomadic Space as Sample (Denis Retaillé)
Part 4: Who is the Author of this Map? – ‘My’ Maps? On Maps and their Authors (Patrick Poncet) – Lost in Transduction: From Digital Footprints to Urbanity – Augmented Reality and the Place of Dreams (André Ourednik)
At its heart, this is a film about risk. It is about what we stand to lose in the course of a colossal social transformation reflected in the way our cities are being re-designed. A stroll in central London will show you what this transformation entails. Developers and politicians are building a new skyline, and with it, bearing a new standard of living costs. While recognising that change is inevitable, this film asks: what do we risk losing as this transformation unfolds?
In asking this question, a portrait is painted of a market in Tottenham, north London, called the Seven Sisters Indoor Market. On face value, it is a fairly common market, with numerous and diverse businesses sit side-by-side vying for custom. Looking more closely, it’s evident that it also doubles as an informal cultural centre for immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. This, too, is common enough among various parts of London and cities like it.
Upon closer reflection, however – and it is this reflection that the film attempts – a brilliance emerges. It is a brilliance in which public and private, social and commercial, native and foreign, are merged into a social attitude of inclusiveness - an example of humanity exceptionally embedded into urban space. It is a market imbued with a ‘living room’ feeling made up of informality and spontaneous cosmopolitanism. Imagine trying to cross a corridor amid multilingual chatter, and being blocked by a child practicing karate.
This portrait is painted using hybrid film language that borrows from documentary and fiction styles, as well as ethnographic modes of representation. At times, past and present are merged in the course of invoking personal stories of migration. At other times, static shots allow stories to unfold before the camera, resulting in a language as spontaneous as the spirit of the market itself.
The story of the Seven Sisters Indoor Market is a reminder of what is possible in a city, as well of what we risk losing through the systematic dismantling of the conditions that keep it open.
This emergent conflict is not passive – in this particular site, you may join the members of the Ward’s Corner Community Coalition in their struggle to preserve the market. The first step towards organised resistance, however, is a reflection triggered.
It’s this reflection on risk that this documentary offers.
Spatial HumanitiesPosted by Les Roberts 18 Jan, 2017 12:44:27 Cultural Turns: New Orientations in the Study of Culture Doris Bachmann-Medick. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. ISBN 978-3-11-040297-1.
https://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/433816The contemporary fields of the study of culture, the humanities and the
social sciences are unfolding in a dynamic constellation of cultural
turns. This book provides a comprehensive overview of these
theoretically and methodologically groundbreaking reorientations. It
discusses the value of the new focuses and their analytical categories
for the work of a wide range of disciplines. In addition to chapters on
the interpretive, performative, reflexive, postcolonial, translational,
spatial and iconic/pictorial/visual turns, it discusses emerging
directions of research. Drawing on a wealth of international
research, this book maps central topics and approaches in the study of
culture and thus provides systematic impetus for changed disciplinary
and transdisciplinary research in the humanities and beyond - e.g. in
the fields of sociology, economics and the study of religion.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Cultural Turns - New Orientations in the Study of Culture 1-37 Chapter I: The Interpretive Turn 39-71 Chapter II: The Performative Turn 73-101 Chapter III: The Reflexive/Literary Turn 103-130 Chapter IV: The Postcolonial Turn 131-173 Chapter V: The Translational Turn 175-209 Chapter VI: The Spatial Turn 211-243 Chapter VII: The Iconic Turn/Pictorial Turn 245-278 Outlook: Are the Cultural Turns Leading to a Turn in the Humanities and Study of Culture? 279-298