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The 2018 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture – “Trauma Geographies: Broken Bodies and Lethal Landscapes” by Derek Gregory

The 2018 Antipode Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Lecture

Trauma Geographies: Broken Bodies and Lethal Landscapes

Derek Gregory
Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and Department of Geography
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada

We’d be delighted if you could join us at the RGS-IBG annual international conference on Wednesday 29 August at Cardiff University for Derek Gregory’s Antipode Lecture, “Trauma Geographies: Broken Bodies and Lethal Landscapes”. The lecture starts at 16:50 (Shared Lecture Theatre, Sir Martin Evans Building), and will be followed by a reception sponsored by Wiley.

Elaine Scarry reminds us that even though “the main purpose and outcome of war is injuring” this “massive fact” can nevertheless “disappear from view along many separate paths”. This presentation traces some of those paths, exploring the treatment and evacuation of the injured and sick in three war zones: the Western Front in the First World War; Afghanistan 2001-2018; and Syria 2012-2018. The movement of casualties from the Western Front inaugurated the modern military-medical machine; it was overwhelmingly concerned with the treatment of combatants, for whom the journey–by stretcher, ambulance, train and boat–was always precarious and painful. Its parts constituted a “machine” in all sorts of ways, but its operation was far from smooth. The contrast with the aerial evacuation and en route treatment of US/UK casualties in Afghanistan is instructive, and at first sight these liquid geographies confirm Steven Pinker’s progressivist theses about “the better angels of our nature”.

But this impression has to be radically revised once Afghan casualties are taken into account–both combatant and civilian–and it is dispelled altogether by the fate of the sick and wounded in rebel-controlled areas of Syria. For most of them treatment was dangerous, almost always improvised and ever more precarious as hospitals and clinics were routinely targeted and medical supplies disrupted, and evacuation impossible as multiple sieges brutally and aggressively tightened. Later modern war has many modalities, and the broken bodies that are moved–or immobilised–in its lethal landscapes reveal that the “therapeutic geographies” mapped so carefully by Omar Dewachi and others continue to be haunted by the ghosts of cruelty and suffering that stalked the battlefield of the Civil War in the years following Lincoln’s original appeal to those “better angels”.

Derek Gregory is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia. He graduated from Cambridge with a double starred First and was appointed to the faculty there at the age of 22. His early work focused on historical geographies of industrialization and on social theory. He moved to UBC in 1989, where his research has focused on the ways in which modern war has–and has not–changed in the 20th and 21st centuries. After 9/11 much of his work addressed military and paramilitary violence in the Middle East (notably in The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq [Wiley-Blackwell, 2004]) but more recently he has mapped the trajectory of Euro‐American military power from 1914 through to the present.

This has involved two complementary studies. First, a detailed analysis of the changing arc of aerial violence–from the First World War, through the combined bomber offensives against Germany in the Second World War, the bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to drone strikes over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere–and second, an account of the embodied nature of modern war, centring on the evacuation of casualties, combatant and civilian, from war zones from 1914 to the present. The two projects have collided in an analysis of attacks on hospitals, healthcare workers and patients in war zones and their implications for both international law and the conduct of later modern war. These studies form part of two book projects, Reach from the Sky: Aerial Violence and the Everywhere War and The Purple Testament of War: Bodies and Woundscapes.

Derek’s research involves both archival work and interviews, but he is also keenly interested in the ways in which imaginative literature and theatrical performance can be incorporated into the research process–he was consulted in the early stages of Owen Sheers’ I Saw a Man and Guy Hibbert’s Eye in the Sky–and has developed a series of performance works related his research. He was awarded the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2006 for his contributions to social theory and human geography and blogs regularly at Geographical Imaginations: Wars, Spaces and Bodies.

*         *         *

As an introduction to Prof. Gregory’s 2018 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture, we have made the following recent papers available to readers without a subscription. Together they reflect themes germane to his work, and will, we hope, offer a primer or further reading to his lecture. Many thanks from everyone at Antipode to Derek for agreeing to join us in Cardiff, and to Wiley’s Bea Harvie and Puneet Bola-Moore for all their help with the lecture and virtual issue.

Andy Kent
Editorial Office Manager
August 2018

A Political Ontology of Land: Rooting Syrian Identity in the Occupied Golan Heights
Michael Mason and Muna Dajani (2018)

Material Footprints: The Struggle for Borders by Bedouin‐Palestinians in Israel
Sharri Plonski (2018)

Producing Victimhood: Landmines, Reparations, and Law in Colombia
Max Counter (2018)

Violent Inaction: The Necropolitical Experience of Refugees in Europe
Thom Davies, Arshad Isakjee and Surindar Dhesi (2017)

Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Legal Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces
Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon (2017)

The Great War of Enclosure: Securing the Skies
Ian Shaw (2017)

Hope in Hebron: The Political Affects of Activism in a Strangled City
Mark Griffiths (2017)

Bodies That Walk, Bodies That Talk, Bodies That Love: Palestinian Women Refugees, Affectivity, and the Politics of the Ordinary
Ruba Salih (2017)

Gendering Palestinian Dispossession: Evaluating Land Loss in the West Bank
Caitlin Ryan (2017)

Geoeconomics in the Long War
John Morrissey (2017)

Ghosts, Memory, and the Right to the Divided City: Resisting Amnesia in Beirut City Centre
John Nagle (2017)

The Agnotology of Eviction in South Lebanon’s Palestinian Gatherings: How Institutional Ambiguity and Deliberate Ignorance Shape Sensitive Spaces
Nora Stel (2016)

Ordinary Emergency: Drones, Police, and Geographies of Legal Terror
Tyler Wall (2016)

Isolation Through Humanitarianism: Subaltern Geopolitics of the Siege on Gaza
Ron Smith (2016)

Policing the Desert: The IOM in Libya Beyond War and Peace
Julien Brachet (2016)

“Death comes knocking on the roof”: Thanatopolitics of Ethical Killing During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza
Mikko Joronen (2016)

The Natures of War
Derek Gregory (2016)

Limits of Dissent, Perils of Activism: Spaces of Resistance and the New Security Logic
Merav Amir and Hagar Kotef (2015)

Homeland Heroes: Migrants and Soldiers in the Neoliberal Era
Noelle Brigden and Wendy Vogt (2015)

Aleatory Sovereignty and the Rule of Sensitive Spaces
Elizabeth Cullen Dunn and Jason Cons (2014)

Antipode to Terror: Spaces of Performative Politics
Daanish Mustafa, Katherine Brown and Matthew Tillotson (2013)

Territories of Life and Death on a Colombian Frontier
Teo Ballvé (2013)

The Antipode Lecture Series

Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography is owned by the Antipode Foundation, a charity that promotes the advancement of the field of critical geography. All surpluses generated by publishing are either [i] distributed in the form of grants made to universities and similar institutions to support conferences, workshops and seminar series or collaborations between academics and non-academic activists, or [ii] used to arrange and fund summer schools and other meetings, the translation of academic publications, and public lectures.

Before now, the Antipode Lecture Series comprised sponsored sessions at the annual meetings of the American Association of Geographers and Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). We invite presenters who represent both the political commitment and intellectual integrity that characterise the sort of work that appears in the journal. Their lectures are filmed by our publisher, Wiley, and made freely available online; Wiley also arrange a reception. Speakers often submit essays to be peer-reviewed and, if successful, published in Antipode. Our archive of inspiring and provocative presentations can be viewed at https://antipodefoundation.org/lecture-series/

The AAG’s and RGS-IBG’s annual international conferences are widely seen as vital venues for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas–but they’re not, of course, the only ones. From 2018, the Lecture Series will be going on the road, reaching out beyond the US and UK to maximise the diversity of those contributing to our community, and facilitating engagement with scholarship from hitherto under-represented groups, regions, countries and institutions to enrich conversations and debates in Antipode.

Our first stop was the joint conference of the New Zealand Geographical Society and Institute of Australian Geographers (https://nzgsconference2018.org) at the University of Auckland in July. Glen Coulthard (First Nations and Indigenous Studies, University of British Columbia) presented “Global Red Power: Fanon and Mao on Turtle Island”, and it was a great event; we’ll make the film of the lecture available very soon…

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