A Radical Geography Community
As of this month, Antipode is in the capable hands of a new Editorial Collective: Nik Theodore (University of Illinois at Chicago); Sharad Chari (University of the Witwatersrand); Vinay Gidwani (University of Minnesota); Katherine McKittrick (Queen’s University); and Jenny Pickerill (University of Leicester).
While Nik and Jenny settle in to their new roles as editors, Sharad and Vinay are responsible for the Antipode Book Series; Vinay is handling Book Reviews, etc.; and Katherine is taking the lead on the interventions section (and you have an idea for a review or intervention, please get in touch Vinay [firstname.lastname@example.org], Katherine [email@example.com] or Andy in the editorial office [firstname.lastname@example.org]).
The new Editorial Collective owe a debt of gratitude to the outgoing editors, Wendy Larner (University of Bristol), Paul Chatterton (University of Leeds), Nik Heynen (University of Georgia) and Rachel Pain (Durham University) who gave sterling service as editors from 2009 to 2013 (Rachel stepped down in 2012). We offer Wendy, Paul, Nik and Rachel our profound thanks for all their work as well as their ongoing support of the Antipode project (Wendy, Paul and Nik are continuing in their roles as Trustees of the Antipode Foundation).
Signing a new contract with Wiley, setting up the Antipode Foundation, and restlessly thinking through what Antipode could and should look like in the 21st century (see the editorials from 2011, 2012 and 2013) – not to mention the 1,000 submissions and re-submissions handled – they’ve worked through interesting times! And for all the difficulties, all the late nights, early mornings, countless e-mails and relentless pestering by Andy, a real sense of possibility has been created and sustained; while never losing sight of its past, Antipode looks to the future with confidence, ready to continue to experiment and innovate.
Antipode‘s future editors will be appointed by the Trustees of the Antipode Foundation. If you are interested in becoming more involved with Antipode please let us know by contacting Andrew Kent at email@example.com
Katherine and Sharad have been editors for over six and twelve months respectively now, so we thought it was time we introduced them properly and heard about them about their work…
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Katherine McKittrick, Kingston ON, Canada, May 2013
Andy Kent: Could you tell us about Dear Science, a project you’ve been working on for a number of years now?
Katherine McKittrick: The title of my next research project and monograph, Dear Science, is borrowed from the musicians TV on the Radio (Interscope, 2008). It is an affectionate invitation to engage science and hold dear creative expressions of scientific knowledge. Dear Science suggests that there exists, between and across the arts and the natural sciences, a promise of intellectual collaboration and emancipatory possibility. The project emphasizes the ways in which the creative texts of those marginalized by social structures—in particular black cultural producers—demand from us an understanding of science and knowledge that challenges biological determinism. The research will look at the ways in which three areas of the natural sciences—biology, mathematics, and physics—emerge in the poetry, music, and visual art of black cultural producers.
I have been thinking about these kinds of questions for some time because I have noticed the ways in which blackness and race—while certainly social constructions—continue to be analysed as sites of degradation and unfreedom. So even as we claim that race is socially constructed, the black body is theorized as a social construction that is biologically inferior. So, I have been interested in how our political commitment to undoing the science of race in fact involves repetitively constituting and naming biologically deterministic categories. Underneath Dear Science, then, is an analytical web that addresses the limits of analysing science and studies of science within a framework that underscores and thus reproduces racial and gendered hierarchies and dichotomies.
These dichotomies and hierarchies do ‘work’ beyond the body and biological determinism, too: through the work of Sylvia Wynter and Aime Cesaire (among others), we can also notice the bifurcation of scientific knowledge and creative knowledge—and how particular communities are said to inhabit either side of this bifurcation. This epistemological splitting has led me to think about how black cultural producers utilize locution, imagery and sound to challenge and recast the colonial underpinnings of scientific knowledge as well as the analytical and interdisciplinary provocations that arise through imagining a black creative science. Early drafts have thought about these questions alongside the long poem Zong! by Nourbese Philip, the musical text Harnessed the Storm by Drexicya, Nas’ Untitled cover art, and two visual pieces by artist Joy Gregory, Memory and Skin and Blonde Collection. I hope to draw attention to the ways in which black creative artists provide a context through which science and creativity are enjoined and thus provoke new analytical challenges for cultural studies, science studies and black studies.
AK: One of the most striking things about your work is its ‘undisciplined’ nature; from your home in gender and cultural studies human geography meets black and anti-colonial studies…And that’s not the only border being trespassed: non-academic ways of imagining and knowing the world play an important role in your scholarship, from literature, poetry and music in Demonic Grounds and the book you co-edited with Clyde Woods, Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, to more recent work focusing on the writers Dionne Brand and Sylvia Wynter. I wonder if you might say something about these boundary-crossings and encounters, and the place of interdisciplinarity and different ‘expressive cultures’ in your research?
KMc: I have found that interdisciplinarity allows one to ask meaningful questions about race and social justice. The possibilities of interdisciplinarity are hopeful and resistant. It is an intellectually rewarding stance, for me—whose undergraduate training was in History and English Literature—to think outside the disciplinary box: this is an exciting analytical space where new ideas can be shared and debated. Methodologically, interdisciplinarity insists that we take a chance on what we do not know while also thinking about how the encounter of various intellectual traditions creates something new. Interdisplinarity and boundary crossing can also be frightening—Dear Science, for example, has brought a lot of new academic challenges to my life—physics, math, science studies—but these areas have pushed me to learn differently. I am not, of course, a physics, math, science studies expert; but engaging deeply with these areas has allowed me to take a chance on what I don’t know in order to think about the poetics of scientific knowledge as a legitimate entry into black and global intellectual history. It seems to me that if black people have been both excluded from and constituted by science—all too often rendered purely biological beings who are unscientific and unintelligent—they definitely have something to say about science that would challenge this worldview.
So how might we, as Edward Said asked, invite worldliness into our intellectual projects and struggles? And thinking with Frantz Fanon, how might we put together different kinds and types of knowledge in order to engender a decolonial perspective? How do we refuse to protect our intellectual property and welcome new ways of thinking? The world, as we know it, insists on encounter (colonialism, transatlantic slavery, and globalization pushed and push us together), and through this encounter something new is made possible. Interdisciplinary thinkers insist that knowledge is relational, multiple and equally valuable to understanding social justice. What I am trying to suggest is that interdisciplinarity, at its best, thinks with and beyond intellectual categories thus forcing us to think about race, gender and sexuality differently. To put it another way, if we breach the barriers between, say, the natural sciences and the humanities, might we also notice a worldview that newly attends to challenging practices of domination? This is, too, about intellectual activism and resistance to normalcy. Interdisciplinarity, at its best, loosens up disciplinary rigor, insists the intellectual histories of nonwhite and other marginalized communities are relevant, and reinvents what it is possible to know and who is a valid intellectual.
AK: Why were you interested in becoming an editor? And how are you finding work as part of an Editorial Collective?
KMc: I have been reading Antipode for a long time; it is a journal that raises important questions about how practices of inequity unfold geographically. The consistency of the journal also appeals to me—while I am an interdisciplinary scholar I like to engage with debates about the production of space precisely because, if I can riff off of Neil Smith, respatialization leads to repoliticization. Antipode has always delivered this kind sustained thinking about space and social justice and the journal is an amazingly comprehensive archive of Left geographic politics. And remember, too, some of the earliest writings on black geographies—I am thinking specifically about the great contributions by scholars such as Bobby Wilson in the 1970s—were published in Antipode. This history, alongside the hard work of the present Editorial Collective—who has maintained the journal’s intellectual integrity while also asking new questions about the place of the production of knowledge—interested me. My work as part of the Editorial Collective has been, to date, very insightful and interesting: each editor’s unique vision and scholarship is coupled with collaborative vision that, as mentioned above, is holding steady Antipode‘s history and positioning the journal as a place where new questions are being asked.
AK: Where, as you see it, is Antipode ‘at’? What do its papers look like? Where do you (want to) see the journal going?
KMc: The papers I have received have been very exciting and, I think, speak to the ‘new questions’ noted above. I have received some excellent papers on race, location and uneven geographies—with themes ranging from hip hop to community farming; all the submissions have focussed on the ways in which nonwhite communities are meaningful spatial actors who are not simply recipients of oppressive practices. This is to say that many of the papers I have engaged with are thinking about racial matters as heterogeneously articulated yet shaped by longstanding and powerful colonial practices. I really like the ways in which the thinking on difference—race, class, sexuality, (dis)ability, and so on—are working through the paradoxes of unfreedom and what is now being called neoliberalism: situating power and knowledge across locations, outside and within the hands of disenfranchised communities (although imagined and articulated differently), and reorienting where social justice and intellectual debate are taking place. For me, I am happy to continue these conversations—to build on intellectual and activist and social justice work that honours different kinds and types of knowledge and engenders new conversations about our collective political futures.
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Sharad Chari, Johannesburg, South Africa, August 2013
Andy Kent: I thought we might start with a bit on your background and training…
Sharad Chari: Thanks, Andy. All my higher education was at Berkeley. I was an undergraduate in Physics and I took one class with someone who blew my mind to such an extent that I was then forced to return as a graduate student in Geography. It was an accident, but a good one. I am very much a product of Berkeley Geography, with its mix of agrarian Marxism, feminism and critical development studies, and its attention to extended ethnographic and historical research informed by social theory and by regional problems. My doctoral work sought to explain the resurgence of ‘industrial districts’, much-hyped in economic geography in the 1990s. I explained India’s pre-eminent industrial district as a product of agrarian histories of work, caste and gender re-tooled to forge hegemony over social labour. I finished a book based on this research while a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, where the walls between anthropology and history had been broken down. I was associated with the interdisciplinary doctoral program known as ‘Anthrohistory’, and I gained a different set of insights, particularly from a formidable and unionized group of graduate students. A geographer among anthrohistorians, I learnt new ways of thinking about the interplay of past and present, and of residual and emergent possibilities. My colleagues actually called me ‘the geographer’ – Michigan had shut its geography department in 1981 – but in fact I felt more resolutely antidisciplinarian. I taught a seminar on radical geography, I got to resurrect Eric Wolf’s old ‘peasants’ seminar, and I did a quite utopian seminar with a dear departed friend Fernando Coronil, and the graduate students in these courses really pushed me to think about what exactly a critical geographic perspective provides to progressive thought more generally. This question continues to challenge me, now that I work at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa and the Anthropology Department at Wits in Johannesburg.
AK: Could you tell us about Apartheid Remains, the project you’ve been working on for ten years now?
SC: Ah, that’s evil to mention the ten years [grin] but thanks for that question as well, Andy. It’s now eleven years, and I now know what I don’t know. While at Michigan, I began conducting long-term research in South Africa on communities neighbouring petrochemical refineries in the Indian Ocean city of Durban. Like a lot of people, I was interested in what seemed like a high-tide of post-apartheid activism, which has now in many ways fallen and dispersed into a range of disparate political possibilities. Gill Hart’s new book deals with this in a very engaging way. My interest was in looking closely at state-sanctioned racism that has forced people to live in a toxic valley surrounded by polluting industry, and the changing ways in which they have been able to resist long-term exposure to ill-health, inspired by Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s work on the dialectics of racism and opposition. Apartheid Remains plays on the historical and material remains of segregation and opposition in one corner of South Africa, in relation to the broader social formation, and hopefully with wider relevance for many other situations of refusal of racialized suffering. If my first book was shaped like a spiral, this one goes back and forth in time, to show how elements of the past limit change today. Each chapter circuits back from the neighbourhoods next to oil refineries to different moments of the past. One chapter is about remains of concentration camps from the dawn of the century; another on the peri-urban ‘black belt’ of ‘slums’ and peasant-workers; another on industrialisation and segregation before apartheid; another on the science-fiction of apartheid as a kind of ‘spatial fix’ in David Harvey’s terms; and then the narrative peaks in a chapter on the incredible burst of revolutionary possibilities in Durban in the 1970s and 1980s. With the leadership of the movement banned, jailed and exiled, my argument is that there was a great deal of political creativity on the ground, and we might find similar creativity today if we looked and listened more carefully. I argue that progressive academics ought to pay more attention to the spatial and material limits to what they might imagine to be progressive social change. Rather than leading to defeatism or tilting at windmills, I take my cue from local popular traditions of critique, particularly in documentary photography, that are akin to what the late Clyde Woods called a ‘blues epistemology’. Particularly when Left discourse seems hollowed out by experts and the political elite, these damaged forms of critique that pervade popular culture give us new ways to think about alternatives.
AK: Tracing your earlier work from Fraternal Capital one sees a focus on particular places and their ‘remains’, a concern with history and ethnography, themes of labour and reproduction, gender and race, development and change (and its contestation) running like a red line; I wonder where you see the dis/continuities? Have unanticipated questions presented themselves? Any unexpected twists and turns?
SC: Thanks for that as well, Andy. Yes, I think you’re right, there is a commitment to particular places, and to people who live in them, and the problems they have faced. Unusually for geography, there is an engagement with the history of the present which I think of with the tools of an anthrohistorian. There is an obsession with writing monographs of the sort that historians and anthropologists value. Berkeley Geography has been a workshop for this sort of work, and I am grateful for that. One major unanticipated shift was in beginning to deal with ‘race’ and racism, in the discipline, in academic careers, in scholarship – everywhere. Fraternal Capital transgressed agrarian and urban, past and present, and it saw a particular social formation as exclusionary but not as fundamentally structured by state racism. In turning to research in South Africa, I attend to this major lacuna in my own training and, if we take Lewis Gordon seriously, in the human sciences more generally. I now live and work in Johannesburg at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, surrounded by the dilemmas of race and racism. The major unanticipated shift was that life would bring me to South Africa. Now that I am here, I am planning new work on Indian Ocean ports, in a new form: an ethnographers’ cooperative that shares a set of commitments and forms of mutuality. This is my Plan B, and I’m up for more twists and turns as it takes shape. The hope is that a collective form might be able to collectivise both insights and frustrations, to think across what can become a chasm surrounding place-specific work. This work is also going to be about emergent phenomena. The Indian Ocean is better studied and written about by historians and writers of fiction, and our interest in emergent practices and relations tries to think beyond expected formulations. I suppose this is the utopia of the ocean that my colleague Isabel Hofmeyr calls ‘the subaltern sea’, but of course at the dead centre of the Indian Ocean is the colony of Diego Garcia and all that it represents, so there may be other ‘remains’ floating on this sea as well. I now work at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, and what’s great about CISA is that it has key questions: What does it mean to think about multiple theoretical traditions of and from the Global South? What are the residual and emergent dynamics of the Indian Ocean region? How might interest in ‘BRICS’ be used to think critically, comparatively and relationally about transformations in different parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas? These are new themes for me – Global South theory, Indian Ocean dynamics and the critique of BRICS – and I am sure they will lead me in unanticipated directions.
AK: Why were you interested in becoming an editor? And how are you finding work as part of an Editorial Collective?
SC: The idea of being part of shaping Antipode is exciting, since it is central to the possibility of critical geography and radical scholarship more generally. Being an editor is an exciting way of intervening in the boundaries of possibility. I come with some impatience with the overvaluation of ‘theory’ in US academia, but also considerable impatience with the faith in ‘things empirical’ in British academia. This is how I thought as an American living in Britain, when I joined the Editorial Collective. Thankfully the world is bigger and this debate is tired, and my sentiments are best expressed by queer thinker Kath Weston, who distinguishes ‘straight theory’, centred on the adulation of a few good men, from ‘street theory’, or the engagement with consciousness in practice and in struggle. As Weston notes, this too is dialectical, and one of the challenges critical geography faces today is to bring ‘straight theory’ back to the ‘street’, to let it wallow in perversion and speak from the muck that surrounds us. My interest as an editor is to help foster this kind of work that pushes expectation a bit farther against the grain. Scholars need support in their capacities to write more evocatively and creatively, despite the growing trend to standardize and bureaucratize intellectual production, to cite the latest sensation, or to count widgets ad infinitum. I wanted to become an editor in order to subvert any view that academic writing must conform to a specific ‘scientific’ style. Finally, I bring an interest in getting geographers to think outside the field, to draw on broader insights from the human sciences and to write so that articles in Antipode are read more widely as well.
Working with the Editorial Collective has been wonderful. I have been with the old collective of Wendy Larner, Nik Heynen, Paul Chatterton and Vinay Gidwani that has now shifted into a new grouping with and Nik Theodore, Katherine McKittrick and Jenny Pickerill joining. The collective form works very well, from the perspective of learning from others, sharing insight on particular papers and problems, and so on. I am not sure why people work in hierarchical ways anymore, even on the grounds of efficiency. Andy Kent, you have of course been an amazing and amazingly patient person to work with, and we all owe quite a lot to you to keep things going. Perhaps a good collective needs a person like you at its heart to make it work properly.
AK: Thanks Sharad! Finally, where as you see it is Antipode ‘at’? What do its papers look like? Where do you (want to) see the journal going?
SC: This is a difficult one to answer, but Antipode continues to provide a place for critical reflection and writing ‘in an antithetical era’, as the last Editorial Collective put it. The papers are lively and varied, addressing a range of aspects of radical/critical geography, and we have become a much more internationalized journal thanks to our writers, readers and the broader editorial board. We are editing to a standard that has kept the journal’s reputation strong, and its rankings high. The renegotiation of our contract, and the work of the Antipode Foundation and all that it supports, like the wonderful Institute for Geographies of Justice that was Nik Heynen’s labour of love – all this has really built a broader community around the journal, and this is very positive indeed. I really do think there is a multi-faceted praxis of commons-making here that is very important. The papers look very diverse, in terms of themes and intellectual proclivities. I would like to see a bit more experimentation and opposition to expectations. I’ve said it, but I would like to see a bit more refusal of the overvaluation of ‘theory’ in the American academy, for instance; I know not all norms can be challenged on the tenure clock, but Antipode should be a place that valorizes experimentation. I would like to see a bit more wider citation, for instance of urban scholars reading and citing urban anthropologists and historians, even from other parts of the world. The ‘turn to the South’ is often mediated by a very small group of Northern-based academics, many of whom don’t really get their hands dirty doing research on the ground, and that really can be resisted. I would like to see Black, Latina/o, Chicana/o, First Nation, queer and trans writing as an inspiration for social theory more generally, rather than as ghettoised in discreet realms of engagement. Can we think beyond ‘a few good men’ to think also with forms of popular critique, with ‘blues epistemology’ and ‘dread history’? I would like to see the journal really contesting the norms of Anglo-American geography, pushing against it’s afterthoughts. Looking into the future, there is also more we can do across the print journal and the website, particularly when people use visual means to represent complex arguments, as Derek Gregory has been doing so effectively in his work against contemporary imperialism. There are many people interested in these problems, also in the pages of Antipode, so I feel very optimistic. Now that I live in ‘the South’, I must say that I also hope that the journal only continues its work of internationalisation.
Thank you, Andy, for these questions, and for your resolute labour – you reassure us that we aren’t doing that badly after all.