Possible Next Steps

This is the first in a series of suggestions/arguments for what we should read next.  Current possibilities on the table are:

  1. Eugene Holland, Nomad Citizenship: Free-market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike
  2. James Holston, Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil
  3. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social:An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory

They all seem like great options.  James, Sush, and Mark will be reading the Holston for sure, so that could be folded in to Becoming-Poor, or operate as a side project.  My thought on the Latour is that Thrift is quite taken with him, and ANT is a kind of operational hub around which lots of the vitalist theory rotates (the say-yes-to-life crowd as opposed to the critical dialectics crowd).  And this is, as I understand it, Latour’s most comprehensive statement on ANT, and it is even a sort of retrospective after he had developed the theory somewhat.  So the idea was this would be a good follow up to Thrift, a going back and investigating an important source for Thrift’s non-representational theory.  Thrift is so secondary, and so this would be a way to get more primary, in a sense.

That said, for my part I would be tickled to read the Holland as well.  But I will let Cheryl say more about that, given she has met the man.

CFP: Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media

Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media
14-15 June 2013

Urban Communication Foundation & Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds

In association with:
ECREA Media and the City Temporary Working Group

Conference website:

The Communication and the City Conference is an international two-day event hosted by the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds. The aim of the conference is to bring together researchers and practitioners from a variety of national contexts to discuss questions of urban communication across academic disciplines and professional fields.


By middle of this century 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, and it is in cities that we find major centres of political, economic, creative and ideological power. For these reasons, in recent decades an increasing number of scholars have come to see cities as powerful texts and contexts for communication research. Drawing from across the humanities, the social sciences and the arts, urban communication has become established as an interdisciplinary field in its own right. Within communication studies, scholars have adopted a variety of approaches to the study of the urban environment. These include social interaction and organizational outlooks, rhetorical and discursive frameworks, and technology and media studies. While it remains vital to keep pursuing distinct lines of inquiry about the city within and beyond communication studies, we believe that it is also crucial to foster a sustained dialogue among the various perspectives that inform scholarly, pr!
actice-based, institutional, and professional endeavours in the field of urban communication.


We invite submissions that address one or any combination of these three broad questions:

1) What are the ‘voices’ that animate contemporary cities? How do different identities, groups, cultures, and constituencies interact, intersect and/or compete in mediated and non-mediated urban contexts?

2) What are the communicative dimensions of urban ‘spaces’ in their own right? How does space mediate specific ideologies and subjectivities, and how is urban space constructed and communicated as place?

3) What is the role of the ‘media’ in relation to both the symbolic and material existence of cities? How do both traditional and new media contribute to representing and experiencing, but also financing and structuring the urban environment?

We are interested in submissions that address these questions through various lenses, including technology, policy, aesthetics, and social/cultural/artistic/professional/political practices. In this regard, we welcome a range of theoretical, critical, empirical, and practice-based papers on any of the following topics:

. The communication of cultural and social differences in the city (e.g. gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, political and religious beliefs) along with the communication dynamics of related negotiations, divides and conflicts
. Identity politics, intersectionality, and intercultural communication in the city
. Political, countercultural, and social movements in the urban environment
. Power and urban space (e.g. urban regeneration, segregation, gentrification)
. Aesthetic, semiotic, rhetorical and discursive dimensions of urban spaces and places, including visual, material, aural, sensorial, and multimodal dimensions
. Urban space and the communication of memory, heritage, tradition
. Spaces of production, consumption and/or citizenship
. The relationship between urban, suburban, and rural spaces
. Representing and communicating the city (e.g. tourism and travel media, city and place branding, cinematic and televised urban spaces)
. Media and technology usage in cities and their role in the experience of urban space (e.g. geo-location, new public and private spaces, augmented reality)
. The presence and impact of media and communication technology in the urban environment (e.g. new forms of “media architecture”, security/surveillance technologies, urban screens)
. The relationship between cities and the media, cultural, and creative industries (e.g. strategies of attraction of media companies into cities, impacts on communities and urban landscapes, connectivity and infrastructure, the local/global nexus)


Please submit abstracts for 15-minute papers by email to communicationandthecity@leeds.ac.uk no later than NOVEMBER 30, 2012. Abstracts should be in English and include a title, your contact details (name, mailing address, email) and a description of your paper (400-500 words). The conference committee will begin reviewing abstract submissions immediately after the deadline. Notification of acceptance will be FEBRUARY 1, 2013. Send your abstract as a Word document or in the body of your email.

Driving in the City

As previously posted, we are currently reading Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory. It has a sexy subtitle: Space | politics | affect, and having just come off of a quarter of tangling with Spinoza, thinking that everything is ‘political’ in general, and being in a program that is decidedly spatially oriented, what’s not to like? There are plenty of good things, to be sure. Some of it feels very familiar; but in many respects, he has a quietly political- political, not Political- message that is important to hear out. (We discussed in our last meeting that the chapters thus far seem to lack a critical, political stance, but perhaps this emerges in the third installment…) We are only a third of the way through the book, so I’m going focus on a particular chapter. Given that the chapters were written at different points as journal articles, and subsequently compiled together, with a substantial introductory chapter (and what I imagine to be a substantial concluding chapter) written for the book, it seems ‘fair’ to critique a single chapter.

In his Driving in the City chapter, Thrift takes the work of de Certeau to task, engaging in the questioning of existing concepts, properly Deleuzian, against the current milieu in order to assess whether the theory still holds true, no longer valid, needs a serious upgrade, etc. The bulk of his argument seems to lie in the fact that driving is an activity that has been fully subsumed into our culture, and as a result, new habits, modes of embodiment, and designs have emerged that have continued to advance said habit/practice, making it all the more subsumed and second nature. As he calls it, “almost a background to the background.” (79) His project is really about bringing the background to the foreground, creating a different sense of awareness, embracing the contingency or ‘onflow’ of life; and presumably, how we can harness this awareness to find a little bit of agency within the current milieu and injecting joy or play into our daily lives. Critical for his argument in this chapter is his feeling that de Certeau is far less relevant than he once was, and that while not offering a ‘disabling’ critique, begs for a different set of questions to be asked today, in order to access the de Certeauian politics that are latent in The Practice of Everyday Life.

I think that Thrift is right to point out how much driving is part of our culture, that we are ‘one’ with the machine, it being an extension of our bodies, the changes of design (though not one mention of ‘artificial obsolescence ” and how that might inform the design process), etc. His citation of the LA study is spot on: reading it, I instantly recalled the days where it felt like I was plying my car down the 60, heading to Riverside, with the very pressure of my foot seeming to urge/move the car forward. It was not the complex computer circuitry and otherwise intricate mechanical system in relation to unleaded gas that got me there; it was the sheer will of my being that made the car move farther and faster down the road. Yes, I did say the 60.

So, in many respects, I think he’s right. But I feel like he misconstrues de Certeau’s overall project. When de Certeau talks about the hidden practices, he is engaging directly with Foucault. Foucault was busy rooting around in the archives, the visible practices that have stood the test of time and bore witness to another time and place. De Certeau explicitly states that the hidden practices don’t make it into the archive, and it’s those practices that we need to understand; not that those hidden practices are the only thing worth paying attention to… While Foucault might reconstruct an enlightening (and accurate) narrative of discipline or madness, he is constructing it from the voices that can still be heard, not the ‘countless thousands’ that are continually rewritten by everyday practices. “We need to be careful” seems to be apt advice. And while it is true that our modern devices track us; our phones let us ‘check in’; GPS tells when to turn right; qualitatively, they simply don’t reveal our affective state; what we were thinking about when the voice said to turn right; nor do they know how to ascertain the meaning when we elect to not check in at one place, but opt to check in at another. Today, I believe these become the hidden voices that de Certeau would seek to uncover. Everything else is just data.

This may seem like a small point, but I think it is critical to the overall spirit of de Certeau’s work that makes him as relevant today as he was when he was writing. The very spirit of this act of seeking out that which remains hidden allows us, the inhabitant, to construct our own meaning out of the monotony that we might be subjected to, regardless of the circumstance. Or perhaps to use Thrift’s language, de Certeau is precisely trying to bring the background to the foreground in order to illustrate that meaning can be made in the most mundane daily tasks.

I also think he misconstrues the overall position that de Certeau would take regarding the automobile. Citing de Certeau’s chapter Railway Navigation and Incarceration, Thrift posits that de Certeau would likely place driving in the automobile in the same realm as being a passive passenger in a train. It seems like de Certeau would more likely place driving somewhere along the lines of the LA driving study that Thrift cites: that automobile drivers construct their own path and in the process, construct their own meaning, in the shortcuts and otherwise tactical driving that do, in fact, occur. I still have very specific memories of tactics (and strategies) of getting through particular areas that were always congested, whether freeways or surface streets, that made me very active and engaged as a driver. It was not that I was simply in my lane and I needed to remain in that lane until I reached a particular exit. Embodying that sort of disposition is in fact, Incarceration. I think Thrift is too quick to place him in the anti-automobile camp, simply because he was so pro-walking. With walking, we can become imperceptible. Driving is still active and requires an engaged driver to navigate other material realities; sitting on a train or bus as a passenger is a wholly different activity. We can change seats, but we can’t make a left or a right on a whim.

To be fair, I do believe that Thrift is trying to retain (resuscitate?) the productive potential that I feel is inherent in de Certeau’s work. But I feel frustrated by his glossing over some of the important points that make de Certeau’s work relevant today, without even needing to ‘upgrade’ him to automobility. The spirit of his engagement is what is important; the content is interchangeable.

Simpson Center for the Humanities Microseminar

That’s right, it’s almost that time again: back-to-school! At least for us Huskies, we have another month of summer.

As I was perusing the webs for courses to register for, I came across this microseminar being offered by the Simpson Center that is intended to frame the Katz Lecture by Shu-mei Shih, visiting from UCLA. While the specific topic may not be relevant to many of our group’s interests, readings, or discussion topics, the terms “Transnationalism, Visuality, Identity” certainly tie into Agamben, Thrift, and probably every other book we’ve read together.

Also might be a nice way to branch into Art, Asian Studies, Comp Lit, etc. We shall see…

Looks like a good resource for anyone interested in Virno’s writing on the “general intellect” and “immaterial labor.”

Te Ipu Pakore: The Broken Vessel

I came to Virno through the excellent interview “Soviets of the Multitude” from Mediations (2004), which discusses the micro-collectives that embody the non-representative democracy characteristic of post-Fordist society (see my blog), and the final chapter of Multitude Between Innovation and Negation, “Mirror Neurons, Linguistic Negation, and Mutual Recognition” (available here for research purposes), which examines the relationship of intersubjective empathy (through mirror neurons) and language (through negation as differential [the heteron], not apophatic [the antitheton]).

Virno is best known as a post-operaist, an activist and theorist of immaterial labour, the kind of work that characterizes post-Fordist society. The best introduction to Virno’s post-operaism is his “Virtuosity and Revolution” from ARTicles (2004).

Many of these links here are from the excellent Generation Onlinesite, moderated by Arianna Bove and Erik Empson.

Articles and Books (in chronological order)

Dreamers of a Successful…

View original post 887 more words

CFP: Crossing Boundaries, Revealing Connections: Experiments in Interdisciplinary Studies

(from h-net)

Bowling Green State University Presents the 8th Annual Battleground States Conference
Title: Crossing Boundaries, Revealing Connections: Experiments in Interdisciplinary Studies
February 22nd – 24th 2013

Culture is mercurial and fluid. Thus research must create, but also dispute yet engage, a transformational and reflective understanding of our subjects. The examination of knowledge and epistemologies from varying perspectives reveals the interconnections of vastly varying subjects. But to find these connections we first need to explore and experiment.

This year’s Battleground States Conferences invites participants to facilitate creative, experimental, and exploratory standpoints that expand their own area of knowledge from unique and multifarious perspectives. In the nature of Interdisciplinary Studies, we seek to cross and analyze intellectual boundaries from multiple perspectives and synthesize diverging epistemologies. We encourage participants to take risks and embrace the possibilities.

Topics of interest include the following, but we also welcome innovative and thoughtful presentations that this list does not encapsulate:
• Experimental pedagogical method
• Performance as presentation
• Interdisciplinary and social histories as lenses to the past and a maps to the present
• Art, music, and documentary as scholarship
• Holistic Science
• Examinations of the barriers and/or facilitators in Interdisciplinary Studies
• Studies in team researching, presenting, performing, or teaching
• Complicating interdisciplinary research methods
• Social media as teaching models/presentation tactics
• Cultural theory in conjunction with social activism
• The intersection of science and religion
• Nuances of Cultural Studies
• Pushing the boundaries of academia and publishing
• Media modalities, technologies, and informational frameworks
• Rethinking educational administrations
• Economic geographies and industrial expansion
• Integrating and connecting the knowledges of:
o American Studies, Popular Culture, Film/Cinema Studies, Race Studies, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Environmental Policy and Planning, Social Media Studies, Political Science, Literature, Graphic Arts, Musicology, Labor Studies, Activism, Educational Reform, Legal and Justice Studies etc.

We also encourage participants to present on topics and areas of research they have yet to fully develop or have always desired to present. More so we endorse unconventional forms of presentation that move beyond the standard paper reading (although paper presentations will be accepted). This conference will open dialogues and modes of thinking that truly traverse and test the boundaries of intellectual work. The purpose of this conference is to develop new knowledge and to do so, we ask scholars to embrace epistemological innovation.

Abstracts of 300 words should be sent to battlegroundstates@gmail.com and must be submitted no later than January 8th 2013. Submissions should include media equipment requests and any special presentation requests. Panel, performance, and artistic display proposals are welcome and should include a 300-word abstract and contact information for all participants.

Please visit our website for information about The Culture Club and Battleground States: www.battlegroundstates.org

All other inquiries should be directed to Elisabeth Woronzoff, Culture Club President, eworonz@bgsu.edu

Why Agamben Is Worrying Me

For me the concern that I had not perceived on my reading but that emerged from our discussion of The Coming Community was the possibility that Agamben is trying to reassault those who would rally politically around some kind of concrete identity (gender, race, sexuality, etc.) and the inequalities/injustices/domination/violence associated with those identities.  I worry that he is insisting that we must think politically in terms of concepts that transcend identity (primarily, “whatever,” but also “being-thus,” “not not-being,” etc.), concepts that get at what is original, or essential, or universal about humanity.  He seeks concepts that are not limited to circumstances particular to a certain group (and not to other groups).  We are all the same in terms of our whatever humanity, and also, it seems in “Shekinah,” in terms of “the communicative nature of humans.”  Agamben is looking for what is shared, which is what is the same, which is what is common to all, which is what is universal, which is the Form of humanity.  OK, maybe that last sentence is a bit too easy in its associations, but that is what is worrying me.

And it is worrying me primarily because this book is very much, I think, part of the new wave of people in the post-1989 era trying to bring back the idea of “communism” as a political rallying point.  It might even stand as one of the first attempts to do so.  People like Badiou, Nancy, Hardt and Negri, Ranciere, Dean, etc. have all been working in this vein.  And I am excited about this new wave, eager to bring it into dialogue with my understanding of democracy.  Eager to recapture the idea of communism not only from the Stalinist disasters of the USSR, China, etc. but also from the hard-line Old Leftists (who, inexplicably, still live and breathe) who want to shove everyone into the moving train of class politics and tell them to shut up about all that identity crap.  So I worry Agamben is (or can be read as) an eloquent and lyrical and sophisticated reincarnation of this crusty Old Leftist.  A sort of Althusser 2.0.  And I am even now starting to retroactively worry about Hardt and Negri, who share Agamben’s people-have-been-reduced-to-just-one-global-class conception of the contemporary political situation.  And, lastly, is it just me or is it entirely plausible to suspect that Agamben’s understanding of the world is deeply Platonic, or, as he hints, some Gnostic re-reading of the theory of the Forms?

Let me end, though, by saying I loved reading the book, and will continue to think these issues through, both in the group and in my own writing…