taCity

A site about the ephemerality of the socio-urban world


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Walking Roosevelt: An autoethnographic exploration

What does it mean to do autoethnography? What even is it? To the critics, autoethnography is rather disparagingly labelled ‘mesearch‘ and a form of personal story-telling that is far too narcissistic to be considered proper research. However, such a view tends to resolutely align traditional scientific objectivity with truth, and so personal accounts become far too unscientific to be able to produce generalisable results. But it is painfully obvious by now, that the truth has a rather variegated existence these days.

Many urban cultural geographers (and indeed, those beyond the discipline) will utilise autoethnography in their own research: some of the most compelling (albeit not entirely unproblematic) research monographs of late have been autoethnographical; Alice Goffman’s ‘On the Run’ and Bradley Garrett’s Explore Everything come to mind. But we also teach it. Students are extremely receptive to it as a method, and not just because it can avoid anxiety-producing encounters with strangers in the field. I find that those students willing to embrace it properly will wield it as a potent critical weapon against the stifling striation of the contemporary city. Yet despite our best efforts in the classroom beforehand, there is always some confusion as to what constitutes autoethnography as a methodological perspective in the field. Continue reading

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Our Future in Common: 2030 and beyond

President AOC announcing the Green New Deal back in 2025

There are going to be plenty of these ‘New Year Resolution’ pieces in the next few days, particularly as we enter a brand new decade. But for the first time in as long as I can remember, I am not looking into the future with an existential dread.

There are plenty of examples of great things that have happened in 2029 that we can use as springboards to carry on through into 2030 and beyond; the implementation of universal basic income, rent control in our global cities, the four-day working week and free augmented reality implants for the over 55s. But there is only really one worth celebrating for sure: the IPCC reported climate change had been reversed. I’m going to write that again, climate change has been reversed. Well okay, that’s a bit optimistic, but what they did say is that CO2 levels had plateaued in the previous 24 months and are forecast to be go down in 2030. This year it is widely predicted to be the first year since the last the 1970s that the Arctic Sea Ice will actually recover this winter. Oceanic acidification is slowing, and the report from the Berlin Institute of Protein Farming of the first sighting of an insect from the Bombus family may well turn out to be true. Our climate may well be back on track.

It would be easy to celebrate that (and heaven knows I will!), but such celebrations would not be happening without the monumental shifts in global socio-politics over the last decade. Yes our environment looks like it may be stabilising, but it would not have been possible without a major destabilisation of what we considered to be unmoveable, unshakable and universal political truths. As 2029 comes to an end, we can look back at this year and say that it was the time in which we were victorious in fighting back against the powers that seek to separate, and in 2030, we can look forward to sharing in a common wealth for all. But where to start in telling that story? Of the seismic shifts that have happened in the world in the past 10 years or so, which is the one that we can point to as the one that brought us back from the brink of climate catastrophe?

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Fight Club 20 years on: suicide and empathy

David Fincher’s Fight Club is now 20 years old. And that the film still manages to talk directly to the issues of today is a testament to the foresight of Chuck Palahniuk’s original novel, but also to the incisiveness of Fincher’s film-making. There are countless blog posts, papers, books, online documentaries, social media brain dumps and podcasts that dissect the film in all sorts of ways. From how it inspires incels, the feminist narratives to the film’s evisceration of consumer capitalism, there are many themes, ideological takes and thematic overtures that can be gleaned from such a masterpiece. So it is not without a big dollop of caution that I go about adding yet another view to the corpus of virtual detritus written about the film, but having trawled through a lot it, it is a view that I have yet to see made so forcefully; and that the film’s relationship to male suicide and how we require the empathy of minor subjects to tackle it. Continue reading


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CfP RGS19 – The Final Frontier? The Enclosure of a Commons of Outer Space

The Final Frontier? The Enclosure of a Commons of Outer Space

CfP for the RGS-IBG Annual Conference at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, London, 28 to 30 August 2019.

 

Musk’s Roadster car mounted on Falcon during his orbit of Earth in 2018; Earth in the background

“Space: The final frontier” (Star Trek TV Series, Opening Monologue)

“Capitalist production constantly strives to overcome these immanent barriers, but it overcomes them only by means that set up barriers afresh on a more powerful scale. The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself” (Marx, 1894: 176)

In February 2018, when Elon Musk sat aboard the Falcon Heavy and blasted off into space, a new age of space exploration took off with him. His company, SpaceX, is now part of a range of corporations (funded by white male billionaires) that are competing with one another to claim the right to colonise space, Mars, the moon and even asteroids. The financial might of these corporations eclipses some of the State-led space agencies (such as NASA, who themselves are increasingly looking to private suppliers) and work is well underway here on Earth that is preparing these corporations to be the gatekeepers to the heavens.

Geographical inquiry has, in recent years, begun to shift from its traditional etymological base of ‘earth writing’, to consider the ways in which outer space is embroiled within our notions of the geographical imagination. Recent contributions from Dickens and Ormod (2016) and Dunnett et al. (2017) have attempted to shift the geographers gaze from our immediate Earthly surroundings to consider how the space of outer space inflects the way we conceptualise the myriad of geographical concerns. In addition, feminism, labour geographies, warfare, time-space compression, environmental catastrophe; they are all traditional geographical concerns that have been used in these recent writings as frames to analyse the cosmos, but they have been shown to be intimately affected by the processes of current space exploration. And from the broader social sciences, work has begun to extend the idea of the global commons into outer space (Buck, 2017).

This session therefore starts from a simple premise: if geography has its roots in ‘earth’ writing, what can the discipline contribute to the current race for near space? We are seeking contributions from a range of disciplines (geography or not), that critically examine how this new age of capitalism-inflected space exploration is changing the way life will evolve here on earth. We envision contributions that speak to the following themes (but of course, are not limited to them)

The enclosure of the commons of near space
Militarisation of the cosmos
Environmental impacts of space exploration
The planned zoning of the solar system
The geopolitics of claiming near space
Space junk and the limits of materiality
Labour geographies of space work
Political economy of asteroids
Intersectionality in outer-space

Along with the threat of thermo-nuclear war and enslavement by AI, ecological catastrophe is one of the most dangerous threats to our species; so space exploration is vital. But as critical scholars, we can’t leave this up to a powerful capitalist system that seems to be more concerned with enclosing a potential vast commonwealth that any emancipatory venture for our species. After all, do you think Elon Musk will let just anyone on his Mars colony…?

Please send a 300-word abstract to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk, peter.adey@rhul.ac.uk and rachael.squire@rhul.ac.uk by 5pm UK time on February 6th 2019. We anticipate issuing acceptance notices shortly thereafter.

 

 


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Don’t be surprised, mobilise

The Anti-Trump Protest in London, July 2018

When President Trump called refugees coming into the US ‘animals’ on live TV, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Roseanne Barr, a prominent Trump supporter likened a Valerie Jarrett – an African-American advisor to Obama – to an ape, it wasn’t a surprise.

When it broke that the UK government has been deporting the Windrush generation as part of a wider ‘hostile environment’ that the Home Office has created for migrants, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Trump’s ICE team locked children in cages in conditions likened to prison camps, separating them from the asylum-seeking parents, this wasn’t a surprise.

When Victor Orban made it an illegal act to help refugees in Hungary creating a toxic and dangerous environment for vulnerable people, it wasn’t a surprise.

When the Trump administration declared the global temperatures would rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, but then shrugged their shoulders, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Brett Kavanaugh got nominated to the Supreme Court for life, thereby cementing a patriarchal, homophobic, ablist, white supremacist hegemony at the heart of American life for the next generation, it wasn’t a surprise.

When Brazil votes in Jair Bolsonaro and he goes on to install a military dictatorship in the country that systemically and violently oppresses minorities, it won’t be a surprise.

When it becomes fully exposed that Brexit was merely a ruse by hyper-capitalists to turn the UK into, a) tax haven where oligarchs can park the blood money they’ve earned via plundering the (human and physical) resources of the Global South, b) a destination with such deregulated labour conditions that corporations can exploit workers to death, and c) a bargain basement bin of once prized and globally-envied public assets to the hawked to the highest bidder; it won’t be a surprise.

When whatever comes next in 2019 that’ll be far worse than all 2018 had to offer, it sadly, won’t be a surprise.

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Glass War: The New Materials of Gentrification

London’s Glass War © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons

Stand on London Bridge on a sunny day and look East, you’ll see the towers of Canary Wharf glistening in the distance, the Shard looming to your right slicing into the sky, and the bloated curves of the Walkie Talkie shimmering like a newly blown glass vase. Walk further west along the South bank, and you’ll come across the ‘South Bank tower cluster’, with its centrepiece One Blackfriars jutting it’s chest out ostentatiously over the river. Further still, and you’ll reach Nine Elms, the biggest building site in the city. Scores of towers are flashing into the sky and construction has begun on the remarkably opulent ‘sky pool’, a 25m long, glass-bottomed swimming pool that hangs 10 storeys up.

These towers represent the most visible beacons of London’s continued development. They contain the moneymaking corporate machines that swell the city’s coffers but fuel the city’s rampant housing crisis, and the unaffordable luxury flats that are the symptom of the city’s hyper-gentrification. Yet there is another aspect to their representation that often goes under-recorded in the hyperbole around London’s gentrification problem – namely their most visible constituent material, glass. Continue reading