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A Radical Geography Community

Johannesburg, South Africa, 21-27 June 2015

The latest Institute for the Geographies of Justice (IGJ) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 21 to 27 June 2015.

The fifth IGJ posed the question ‘how do we occupy radical geography today?’. We posed ‘occupation’ as a meta-theme or framework for praxis as we organize engagements across a wide array of debates and concerns inside/outside radical geography. We posed the question to ask how we might occupy and transform radical geography as an occupation, vocation or critical stance.

As radical-geographic practitioners in various ways, the organizing group in Johannesburg presented a platform for transformations with participants, to enable and renew a set of debates pertinent to ‘occupying radical geography’. In doing so, we posed a number of related questions: How do we define radical/critical geographies? How should we be engaging other communities of activists in our research and teaching? How might we draw across disciplines to transgress disciplinarity in radical geography? How do we think across art, activism, and social science in radical and geographic praxis? How do we map or otherwise envision the futures of radical/critical geographies? Finally, how might thinking of these questions from Johannesburg, from South Africa, from the South, and from a set of globally interconnected experiments in radical geography (broadly conceived) shape the discipline we would rather occupy?

The fifth IGJ provided an exciting opportunity to engage critically with theoretical, methodological, and activist issues in the fields of radical geography and social justice, along with a range of associated professional, practical, and career-development matters. This international gathering was specifically designed to meet the needs of new researchers, taking the form of an intensive, interactive workshop for 27 participants.

We met in the City of Johannesburg, a city built on gold, labor, power, struggle, and a cosmopolitan energy that points to a variety of futures for the continent and the world. Johannesburg is a rich site of excavation of geographies of injustice as well as of intellectual, political, and artistic creativity. The meeting was framed around engagements including: dis/possession and occupation; difference/differentiation; desire, affect, materiality; value, values, waste; space, territoriality and nature; urban formations and spatial justice; knowledge, discourse and power, and the praxis of radical geography. It involved facilitated discussions, public panels and lectures, as well as space for participants to shape collective discussion, writing and collaborative exchanges, walks, art and music performances, and engagements with all aspects of our praxis as radical educators, activists, thinkers, and writers. The program attempted to make space for engagements with musicians, artists, and activists in the city, as well as guided explorations of the City of Johannesburg and Soweto.

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A highlight of the week was a series of public lectures and panels:

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Professor of Geography, City University of New York) presented “Extraction: Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence”, with an introduction from Ruth Hopkins (Senior Journalist, Wits Justice Project);

Edgar Pieterse (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town) participated in a discussion on “The Contemporary African City: Crises, Potentials, and Limits” with Alex Wafer and Prishani Naidoo (Wits University);

Gillian Hart (Professor of Geography and Development Studies at UC Berkeley) and Françoise Vergès (Chair in the Global South at the Collège d’études mondiales) participated in a discussion on “Capital, Disposability, Occupations” with Sharad Chari and Melanie Samson (Wits University);

And Ananya Roy (Professor of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley) presented “City’s End: Making the ‘People’s Territory’”, with an introduction from Achille Mbembe (Professor at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research).

You can see videos of these online here.

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