Conference – Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers 20-25th April, Chicago

It has been bracing and inspiring last few days at the Association of American Geographers in Chicago. As well as seeing some superb sessions, I co-organised two sessions with Colin McFarlane and Alex Vasudevan concerning Political Enactments; chaired a session on Pedagogies of Peace-Building, Democracy and Development (organised by Lynn Staeheli and Sandy Marshall), and participated in the editorial board meetings for Political Geography and the International Encyclopedia of Geography (published by the AAG/Wiley-Blackwell).

The sessions on Political Enactments sessions focused attention on the ‘doing’ of politics, we were keen to explore how enactment was enrolled into the constitution of the political. In many ways this leads on from a general frustration that we (Colin, Alex and myself) have had concerning post-political theorising that can either romanticise resistance as a necessarily utopian project or underplay the role of material/immaterial forces (bodies and objects, but also their disposition, their aesthetics) in the unsettling or affirmation of existing regimes of rule.

The sessions involved talks by Tariq Jazeel on protest in Brazil; Dan Swanton on everyday multiculture and artistic spaces of encounter; Michelle Wenderlich on civic attempts to forge urban commons; Susannah Bunce on the community housing associations in East London; Michele Lancione on the politics of evictions and protest in Bucharest, Alan Ingram on an art installation as an aesthetic and political intervention; Antonio Ferraz de Oliveira on temporary autonomous zones, and we tried to think through a typology of political enactments across our different empirical interests. They were a well-crafted and varied set of papers coalescing around an interest in the form of political practices not as a reflection of underlying or predetermined set of political orientations but rather as central to the constitution of the political itself. There is an excellent post by Colin on the CityFragment blog which interrogates these concerns in more detail while reflecting on some of the urban scholarship at the AAG Meeting.

The sessions of Pedagogies of Peace-Building, Democracy and Development were organised by Lynn and Sandy as part of the ERC YouCitizen project, and thereby constitute part of the wider project dissemination (see earlier post regarding the Dilemmas of Civil Society workshop in March in Cambridge). As Lynn articulated in her discussant comments at the conclusion of the two sessions, the papers shared a general interest in pedagogy as a political enactment: that is, the ways in which certain ideas of peace, progress or subjectivity are conveyed, through what materials? How are they embodied? What fleeting moments? The papers were wide-ranging but retained a focus on these central questions.

Just to focus on three papers that stuck in the mind: Stuart Aitken presented on the case of the Slovenian Izbrisani (the erased), individuals who, through post-independence constitutional manoeuvres by the Slovenian state, found themselves excluded from citizenship claims on the basis of legal demarcations of who constituted the appropriate citizenry of the new state. Chloe Buire presented the emerging findings from her work exploring the contested understandings and practices of youth citizenship in South Africa. The fascinating part of her argument was the seeming dissonance between (or paradox of) the discourse of ‘learning citizenship’ conveyed by some of the NGOs she has been working with and the personal scepticism of those tasked with implementing such pedagogies of citizenship. it illustrated the value of ethnographic research in orientating attention on these lived tensions between expectation and practice (it also reminded me of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s observation that a paradox is a means through which a contradiction is resolved). Joaquin Villanueva presented on the role of courts in France as active agents in processes of citizenship formation, engaging in this challenging (and, at time ambiguous) arena of the role of courts as social agents. The paper crisply illustrated the rather tense positioning of courts as sites through which children were educated on their rights (their educational role), while also acting as sites where rights were suspended or removed (their judicial role).

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