Posts Tagged ‘ geography general ’

Counter/mapping Queen Mary

This is a shameless shout-out to the wonderful, erudite, intelligent and artistic people at Queen Mary college who have put together the QMUL Counter/map. In their words, their intention was to “map the ways in which migration, border technologies, surveillance and monetary flows intersect with the university as our place of work and study”. Their project was inspired and supported by the Counter-Cartographies Collective over in the US of A, who have pioneered these counter-maps since the mid-2000s.

This was a project I got very excited about when it first got going, but – alas – i was too busy finishing my PhD to be involved. Please do take a peek and pass it on. They have hard copies of the map and the accompanying board game, so get in touch with them if you want a few.

Well done to all involved.


Urban erasure, multiculturalism and the politics of naming

It has come to my attention that the CLR James Library in Dalston is getting a big make-over and, concerningly, a new name. I’ve never used it, but I have heard of it and, of course, CLR James. James was the pen name of a prolific Trinidadian socialist writer. As well as a very eloquent anti-colonialist, journalist and cricket writer (!), he was most famous among left circles as a founder member of the Johnson-Forrest Tendency, a group of former Trotskyists who became disillusioned with the treatment of the barbaric USSR as a “degenerated” workers’ state. He also described himself as a Leninist, even though he explicitly rejected vanguard politics.

Anyway, if you want to read more about James, there are plenty of resources online, as well as his books such as his famous magnus opus, The Black Jacobins.

The thing I find concerning about the erasure of the CLR James library is not necessarily the fact that the state once again is threatening to stamp its authority on a public space by potentially removing all historical connection between James and London’s diverse radical past (though of course I do find it very much concerning!). I’m most concerned, for the purposes of this blog anyway, about the politics of renaming the library in the specific context of CLR James.

The problem leads into the murky backwaters of multicultural policy frameworks and government departments such as Communities and Local Government. They think multiculturalism is great (and so do I, in case you’re worrying!). Crucially, for government and business, multiculturalism is an infinitely marketable commodity. It makes places more marketable not only in terms of gentrification by ‘edgy’ creative types who have got bored of Shoreditch and Hoxton, but also in terms of attracting funding from bodies such as the European Union and European Social Fund, which often specifically target multicultural areas for “urban renaissance” and “culture-led regeneration” initiatives.

But let’s look a little deeper. We have a situation in places like Dalston, where there has been massive disinvestment for decades, property prices have dropped, unemployment has risen, and the areas have become more ethnically diverse as low income non-white populations have grown in the area. This, then, further depreciates the value of land in the area and that’s that for a long time. In Clapton, next door to Dalston and economically very similar, there’s a range of North African, Afro-Caribbean and white communities present, and Clapton has likewise seen decades of disinvestment from local or national government. It’s a pretty standard dynamic in large urban areas, and is the opposite end of the gentrification that we have seen in places like Notting Hill.

At the same time, the government’s priorities lie in maintaining a fine balance between embracing the economic benefits of deregulated global markets (of capital, goods, etc) and ameliorating the down-sides of this deregulation (forced economic migration putting pressure on local economies and populations). So, on the one hand, national government is “cracking down on immigrants”, and on the other, local government is “embracing cultural diversity”. This contradictory approach to migration policy creates a peculiar situation that seems to encompass the worst excesses of both conservatism (kick em out) and liberalism (let’s just be friends). In the meanwhile, immigrant populations are ghettoed, impoverished and scapegoated and the poorest end of the ‘native’ populations are neglected and disenfranchised. The government seems to think that people really are that stupid as to be bought off either by naive protectionism (for the poor ‘natives’) or superficial cultural spectacles (for the poor immigrants). It’s a lose-lose situation for the most vulnerable, essentially.

So we have large working class populations in particular areas, with few facilities, few jobs, few opportunities to leave and often a range of different ethnicities present. Of course, the right love this. It just “proves” that immigration is the huge evil monster they always predicted it would be. They parasitically feed off divisions sown by government policy and sometimes garner a decent amount of support.

And this is set against a background of government policy that celebrates diversity and multiculturalism as a means of a) capital accumulation and b) painting over the worst effects of global migration flows for both ‘immigrant’ and ‘native populations.

The problem with CLR James, though, is that he was a socialist. A proper, old school revolutionary socialist. He taught people to understand the dynamics of migration as one that is intimately embroiled in the dynamics of capital accumulation and imperialism. He taught people to understand their position in society as closely connected to their class, ethnicity and nationality. Essentially, his politics were a powerful rebuttal of both liberal and right-wing efforts to weaken and divide working class people in precisely the way that contemporary government policy is doing right now in places like Dalston and elsewhere in Hackney.

By erasing CLR James from the landscape of somewhere like Dalston, Hackney Council is inadvertently bringing to life the hidden politics of ‘race’ and migration in a global city like London. It is stamping the issue on our foreheads with all the subtlety of a brick (and without any awareness of irony, it seems). For here, in the powerful symbolism brought to light through this minor erasure in the arse-end of nowhere, might perhaps be where we find a little silver lining of the whole debacle?

The technocratic perils of having a niche

While i was doing my PhD I managed to bash out a few moderately interesting publications. Nothing too groundbreaking, but good enough to publish. Since early 2009, I have had a pretty dry spell, with a grand total of one paper submitted and accepted for publication. Wilderness months of unemployment and casual waiting work put paid to any real zest for writing for quite some time during the early months of this year.

Now, settled into a half-decent job, I find myself inundated with requests for articles. One introduction to a special issue of Antipode. One full article for Antipode. One progress report for Geography Compass. At least one or two papers from my current research.

The world of academia is a very small, rather in-bred one where, despite efforts to the contrary, you become pigeon-holed and assigned a certain (largely static and bland) niche identity. For me, i’m “that guy who writes about geography and anarchism”, meaning that if anyone wants a token anarchist geographer to write something, they almost inevitably find me, even though there are many, many others (Gavin Brown, Paul Chatterton, Simon Springer, Nathan Clough, etc etc) who are just as – if not more – able to write interestingly and coherently on the subject.

I sometimes wonder if it’s to do with the title of a chapter i wrote that was published a year ago entitled Whither Anarchist Geography? and whether part of it is inflienced by online search engine rankings. So i did a little experiment by typing in “anarchism geography” into Google, and discovered that my chapter is third in the list, beating big names like Colin Ward, Jane Wills and Gavin Brown.

So Google’s imperium seems to look kindly those with short, snappy titles that are easily identifiable. This quirk might, then, actually structure the real-life relations between people, certainly in academia, connecting disparate nodes acording to a programming language developed by some guy in a computer lab. So this unknown stranger who i’m unlikely to ever meet is partially to blame for my (otherwise inexplicable) rise to popularity among journal editors. Perhaps an article entitled Whither Google Geography? should be the next project…? No, wait, i have, like, four others to get done first. Damn. Maybe this popularity lark isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Hello there…

Welcome to my as-yet-sparsely-populated blog. I’m a geographer currently residing in sunny Bethnal Green, East London. I recently completed my PhD entitled Organising Anarchy: Spatial Strategy, Prefiguration and the Politics of Everyday Life at Queen Mary, University of London. Please don’t expect me to explain it, as I wouldn’t want to disappoint you so early on.

Elsewhere in life I am a keen fixed-gear cyclist, rock climber, hill walker, bonsai killer grower and a hopelessly devoted partner to H., my long-suffering girlfriend. Without a doubt, all of these will feature from time to time.

I don’t yet know what will become of this little project, but i have a few things in mind:

  • Illuminating and discussing the role played by geography, space and place in the way this funny old world works.
  • Pondering the joys and pains in the everyday experiences of being a young, inexperienced and often un(der)employed academic in these times of turbulence.
  • Writing a little about my pet topic – anarchism – and the ways in which I feel it has big things to say about the aforementioned funny old world, how it works, and occasionally how I feel it should work. Related to this, I would like to talk specifically about how anarchist approaches to political thought, action and critique can enrich our everyday lives and the way we (geographers, bloggers, humans, fauna…) relate to and live alongside one another.
  • Sharing a few tidbits from my academic research, which focuses chiefly on – you guessed it – anarchist thought and action, but also a whole load of other juicy stuff.
  • Hopefully also peppering this rather dry political stuff with some little rays of humour and intrigue along the way. Over the years, those of us with a leftward inclination have gained an awful (albeit not entirely undeserved) reputation for being dull, humourless and a bit whiney. I’ll do my best to convince you otherwise.

Just like the rich tapestry of life, I suspect that this blog will meander, stopping here and there, bifurcating at points and converging at others; becoming a rather labyrinthine mish-mash of intrigue, stupidity and utopia. Failing that, I hope that it will at least be modestly entertaining in parts…