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#AAG2015 afterthoughts

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The Annals of American Geographers annual conference this year was in Chicago, and as usual, was a hectic 5 days of sessions, networking, partying and pontificating. The ante seemed particularly high this year, there was a heightened sense of a complex mix of emotional states; excitement (perhaps a symptom of being in such a great city), enjoyment (plenty of people seemed to have beaming smiles), anger (name-calling was heard), insecurity (lots of discussions about academic precarity) and exhaustion (no-one I spoke to seemed well-rested). I targeted a route through the sessions that was focused on my current and future research plans, namely critical urbanism, activism and subversion, and so I found myself gravitating to sessions with ‘neoliberalism’, ‘activism’, ‘urban justice’ and ‘subversion’ in the title. Some were fantastic, others less so, but that is an inevitable consequence of the AAG’s policy of excepting all abstracts. One of the major themes though that I took home was that critical urban theoretical discussions are slightly laboured, a bit tail-chasing, and while important to provide a conceptual framework for activism, still seems not as connected to ‘on the ground’ experience, marginality and radical politics as it could be. Continue reading


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Students and their role in Critique

Occupied - Image used via Creative Commons. Taken from 'lusciousblopster' on flickr, URL: http://is.gd/j21AYs

“Occupied”- Image used via Creative Commons. Taken from ‘lusciousblopster‘ on Flickr

There is a current wave of student occupations across London. KCL, LSE, UAL, Goldsmiths  have all been targeted, and I’m sure more are brewing. The LSE occupation was the first (that I noticed anyway) and they are calling for a “Free University of London” and aiming to create an “open, creative and liberated space, where all are free to participate in the imagining of a new directly democratic, non-hierarchical and universally accessible education”. There has been plenty of coverage of these occupations in the relevant media outlets, not least UAL’s rather terse response in particular. Whatever the politics of these occupations and your views on the provisioning of higher education in this country (I happen to agree with their position), what I think is equally as important about these ‘events’ more broadly is that it is students as a cohort that are leading these protests.

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Exploring our Techno-Societies: A Kickstarter Project

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The intensification of technology is a process that we can no longer ignore. Stephen Hawking recently said Artificial Intelligence could end mankind, televisions are spying on us, Hollywood blockbusters warn of dystopic futures. These ‘big’ ideas about technology are critical to the debate about what it means to be human and have been raging for sometime, but on a more societal, everyday level, our human interactions are evermore being replaced by technological ones. Buying food from a machine, talking to computers on the phone, automated passport controls, searching for friends and soul mates online, sharing a joke with your smart phone’s operating system, checking into hotels via a smart phone – there is a layer of technology that is replacing our everyday connections with the people around us, a layer that is becoming increasingly invisible but all-encompassing.

In light of this, I’m embarking upon quite an ambitious project. It’s a bit experimental, but something I think hugely worthwhile. Essentially, I aim to conduct three social scientific experiments or ‘challenges’ that will test just how far I can go by living solely via technological interfaces. I want to make a documentary film (and write an accompanying book) that explores how technology is making our economic and social interactions more efficient, but also how they are making us interact less with humans for our everyday needs. This has all manner of societal implications about sociality, family life, loneliness, technological politics, workers rights and a host of many other crucial debates.

So I have created a Kickstarter page to try and raise the funds needed to conduct the project. Please consider contributing, because I believe that such a project has the potential to have a vast impact academically, politically and culturally. Please feel free to email me (olimould@gmail.com) or tweet me for more information.


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Walking the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ

The Berlin Wall of the new Creative Berlinᵀᴹ

One cannot have failed to notice the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend. Coupled with Remembrance Sunday, it has created a milieu of memorialisation over the weekend that has invoked process of grief, global strife, hegemonic power, activism & resistance, personal loss and spirituality. There has been a lot of pontification and media chin-stroking about the geopolitical wrangling and consequences of the fall of the Wall in the lead up to the anniversary, but what has always been present in the urban studies literature is the way in which the Wall acts very much within the urban geography of Berlin. I was lucky enough to visit Berlin last month for a very interesting and enlightening Workshop on Controversies of the Creative City, and given the content of my talk (which was, in a nutshell, a 20-min dash through the themes of my book) the inventible question I always seem to be asked is ‘what is the alternative’? If neoliberal capitalism is unjust, damaging and polarising, just what is the answer?** Given that we were in the city that symbolically saw the collapse of one viable ‘alternative’ it seemed like an apt arena in which to have the debate. With the workshop discussions pinging around my thoughts, I took it upon myself to practice what I so often champion which is the act of drifting à la The Situationists, something which can (can) begin to inculcate a more creative city. But of course, this is neigh-on impossible in the contemporary Creative City, so using the old line of the Wall (which is of course now, a recognised tourist route – Berliner Mauerweg, the Berlin Wall Trail), I walked from the SouthEast of the city centre to the North, keeping as close to the line as I could. This practice has been done elsewhere far more vividly that I ever could by Will Self (the flâneur of our time), and my photography skills have a lot to be desired (to say the least – click on the photos to see a larger version). But what follows is a photographic essay which speaks to the changing urban condition in Berlin from a city divided along geopolitical and revanchist lines, but which now has perhaps lost the former in favour of a more global city-inculcated version of the latter.  Continue reading


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Harvey on Urban Entrepreneurialism

Another quote that I seem to be going back to a lot when talking about the shift from urban managerialism to urban entrepreneurialism and city marketing…

“Many of the innovations and investments designed to make particular cities more attractive as cultural and consumer centres have quickly been imitated elsewhere, thus rendering any competitive advantage within a system of cities ephemeral. How many successful convention centres, sports stadia, disney-worlds, harbour places and spectacular shopping malls can there be? Success is often short-lived or rendered moot by parallel or alternative innovations arising elsewhere. Local coalitions have no option, given the coercive laws of competition, except to keep ahead of the game thus engendering leap-frogging innovations in life styles, cultural forms, products and service mixes, even institutional and political forms if they are to survive. The result is a stimulating if often destructive maelstrom of urban-based cultural, political, production and consumption innovations. It is at this point that we can identify and albeit subterranean but nonetheless vital connection between the rise of urban entrepreneurialism and the post-modern penchant for design of urban fragments rather than comprehensive urban planning, for ephemerality and eclecticism of fashion and style rather than the search for enduring values, for quotation and fiction rather than invention and function, and, finally, for medium over message and image over substance”. (Harvey, 1989: 12-13)


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De Certeau on Walking

As I’m currently finishing off my first monograph, it’s customary of course to (re)read some of the great texts that formulated the ideas of the book in the first place. So I thought I’d start a blog series that block quoted some of the prose that has inspired/is inspiring the book writing. They won’t be in the final edit, but are worthy of note given their foundational status to the ideas of the book. So to start off, a piece from De Certeau’s classic, Walking in the City (the full pdf of which can be found here):

“It is true that the operations of walking on can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths (here well-trodden, there very faint) and their trajectories (going this way and that). But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by. Surveys of routes miss what was: the act of passing by. The operation of walking, ‘wandering or window shopping’, that is, the activity of the passer-by, is transformed into points that draw a totalizing and reversible line on a map. They allow us to grasp only a relic set in the nowhen of a surface of projection. Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice. It exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so, it causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten”. (De Certeau 1984: 161).

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