It’s been one week since the end of the third Warwick Political Geography conference. The event, lasting two days, is sure to echo for some time with those having participated, with faces, debates or ideas making them smile, perhaps wonder. This year’s theme was on challenging conceptions and materialisations of state space. The presentations ranged broadly and provokingly in their way of addressing this open-ended challenge. The presence of activists, professionals and academics made this engagement all the more lively and inspiring.
In the first panel, Carolina Frossard, Francesco Colona, James Ellison and Tanvi Pate reflected on how state ‘security’ is produced in specific sites and how on different bodies negotiate this project with resistance, cooperation or divergence. Supporting this engagement, case studies ranged from Manipur (Northeast India), Recife (Brazil), and Nairobi to Calais. Carolina and Francesco focused on how different actors produced ‘security’ and how technology and social ties became entangled in this. Drawing on activism, James focused on the violent production of ‘security’ in the Calais migration camps, and on the unrequited, yet growing, participation of neo-fascist militias in this regime. Following this, Tanvi discussed how the body of activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has become a site of political contest to secure the meaning of the northeastern Indian state of exception.
Following this, a second panel focused on using the question of materiality as a vantage point from which to question typical imaginations of state space. Elizabeth Alexander deployed Walters’s concept of ‘’viapolitics’’ to discuss a ship of jewish refugees in 1947. Drawing on the conference’s themes, Elizabeth probed us to think of this ship, and its entangled paths, as a prelude to Israeli state formation. Alternatively, following an STS approach, Arabella Fraser examined landslide risk governance in Colombia as a depoliticizing mechanism, which, through (faulty) mapping, made local politics of vulnerability not only invisible but also inoperable. Combined, these presentations illustrated how both in governmental and grassroots productions of state space, materiality can be thought through as a key, yet often analytically ‘missing’, point of politics.
Closing the first day, a third panel focused on the city and different forms in which urban planning had attempted to produce state space. Reflecting on Cairo, Mohammad Abotera contrasted the disappearance of public green spaces with a boom in garden-related billboards. This, he contended, illustrated deep social changes in city-space inclusion and coincided with a new ‘vision’ of urban state space, as shown in the New Cairo project. Shifting time frames, Vladimir Rizov, engaged with Haussmanian Paris and Fin-de-Siecle St. Petersburg to reflect on how documentary photography can be used to ‘read’ tensions between these quintessential urban state spaces and social bodies involved, and hidden, in them. Drawing on questions of heritage, Melinda Harlov focused on socialist and post-socialist works of memorialisation in public space in Budapest, Hungary.
Following these sessions, Léopold Lambert, founder of ‘the Funambulist’ magazine, presented the keynote address on the walls in police architecture in the contemporary context of the French state of emergency. Drawing on the day’s discussions, Léopold effectively and elegantly reflected on the role of architecture to mediate bodies through instituting violent geographies and materialities.
In the closing day, the conference turned to representation and state space as well as coloniality and state space. In the first session, focusing on representation, Thomas Jackson engaged with different forms of cartography and their relations to geopolitical representations of the Islamic State. Drawing from his fieldwork, David Scheuing reflected on the refugee exercises of mapping as alternative ways into representing their journeys. Lastly, Niklas Plaetzer employed a discussion of Arendt, Ranciere and Laclau to question the relation between political space and its representations through a concept interstitial politics. The second session, focusing on coloniality and state spaces, provoked an engaging discussion. Ricardo Marten Caceres focused in the Juarez Valley to discuss the struggles between the Mexican government and the cartels in securing space. Speaking on the Québec, Stephanie Najjar discussed the alophon system, where language serves as a basis for legal discrimination. This system, she claimed, is operationalized into a politics tinged with coloniality, as it is supported with the succour of a political discourse of francophone integrated ‘interculturality’. Drawing from Political Marxism, Pedro Salgado presented on the state-formation of Brazil in the nineteenth-century. Attentive to Brazilian dominant classes and their different involvements with international politics, Pedro pointed to the untold significance of events such as the Congress of Vienna in aligning the political fates of the Brazilian state. Lastly, focusing on gold-mining, Ximena Sierra Camargo emphasised the continuities and renewals of state support of mass extractivism in Colombia. Most importantly, Ximena noted the depth of this influence by referring to the juridical character of this support.
Concluding the conference, Professor Michael Woods presented a thought-provoking plenary directly addressed at the conference’s topic. Taking the concept of assemblage head-on, Prof. Woods sought to show how it can be used productively to understand transformations of place in the context globalization. Extending from Deleuze and DeLanda and two case studies, Prof. Woods contrasted place assemblages and transnational assemblages as two types of assemblages produced through globalisation. Following his presentation, participants engaged in an active debate on the issues raised, raising questions we were all left mulling over.
All in all, this year’s conference was an immense pleasure and a great culmination to months of teamwork in preparation. We are thankful to the presenters, the keynote speakers, the chairs and the PAIS department for making all this possible. Political Geography is a subject with increasing amounts of interest, for its inclusive way of thinking and its attention to politics and place. We hope to see you there next year!