RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013
||Demanding the impossible: transgressing the frontiers of geography through anarchism (1)
Participatory Geographies Research Group
Richard White (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Simon Springer (University of Victoria, Canada)
Collin Williams (The University of Sheffield, UK)
Federico Ferretti (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Alexandre Gillet (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Marcelo Lopes de Souza (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Philippe Pelletier (University of Lyon, France)
Richard White (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
||Friday 30 August 2013, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
||Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 120
In an age that is desperately in need of new critical directions the philosopher Simon Critchley (2011) argued that “An anarchical order is not just desirable, it is also feasible, practicable and enactable...". Despite the exciting and vigorous contribution to geography that key anarchist writers - particularly Élisée Reclus and Peter Kropotkin - made in the late nineteenth century anarchist praxis in the discipline remained conspicuous by its absence for much of the twentieth century. In recent years however a serious (re)turn toward anarchist thought and practice has begun to challenge and inspire geographers to travel beyond the frontiers of geographical knowledge (which have in too many cases served only to diminish and limit our ideas and imagination about what is both possible and practical).
In 2012, the first Special Issue in Anarchist Geographies published by Antipode in 34 years was a definitive moment in indicating a geographical turn toward anarchist praxis. Through illustrating the exciting kaleidoscopic range of geographies that were emerging in this area, the Special Issue exposed the very real, new and exciting anarchist lines of flight that are strengthening the ability of geography/ers to contribute meaningfully to the very real human and other-than-human crises that are unfolding throughout the world today.
Moving confidently and constructively toward new radical and "anarchist" spaces therefore has allowed for new geographical imaginations and spatial practices to flourish, and opened up many exciting directions and territories for geographers to engage with. The Panel is keen to support and promote any anarchist theory and practice that will further animate anarchist geographies with "new burst(s) of colour" (Springer et al 2012). In the context of challenging geographical frontiers (whether employed as a concept, a metaphor or as a point of empirical focus) we are particularly keen to promote the three areas of anarchist geography/ies that Brietbart (2012: 1584) identifies: (1) radicalizing pedagogy (2) the use of space for resistance and the incubation of alternative social structures; (3) the dissemination of new ideas and spatial/ social practices, and all the anarchist spaces that lie in between!
Demanding the impossible: transgressing the frontiers of geography through anarchism (2); Embracing anarchist praxis at a time of political, economic and social crisis
Demanding the impossible: transgressing the frontiers of geography through anarchism (3a) Reanimating Anarchist Geographies: toward new bursts of colour
Demanding the impossible: transgressing the frontiers of geography through anarchism (3b) Reanimating Anarchist Geographies: toward new bursts of colour
Why A Radical Geography Must Be Anarchist
Radical geographers have been preoccupied with Marxism for four decades, largely ignoring an earlier anarchist tradition that thrived a century before radical geography was claimed as Marxist in the 1970s. When anarchism is considered, it is misused as a synonym for violence or derided as a utopian project. Yet it is incorrect to assume anarchism as a project, which instead reflects Marxian thought.
Anarchism is more appropriately considered a protean process that perpetually unfolds through the insurrectionary geographies of the everyday and the prefigurative politics of direct action, mutual aid, and voluntary association. Unlike Marxism’s stages of history and revolutionary imperative, which imply an end-state, anarchism appreciates the dynamism of the social world. In staking a renewed anarchist claim for radical geography, I attend to the divisions between Marxism and anarchism as two alternative socialisms, wherein the former positions equality alongside an ongoing flirtation with authoritarianism while the latter maximizes egalitarianism and individual liberty by considering them as mutually reinforcing.
Radical geographers would do well to reengage anarchism as there is a vitality to this philosophy that is missing from Marxian analyses that continue to rehash ideas–such as vanguardism and a proletarian dictatorship–that are long past their expiration date.
Towards a libertarian turn? (Re)new(ed) directions in socio-spatial praxis and research
We live to a large extent in an ‘age of generalised conformism,’ as Graeco-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis said in the 1980s. However, there are also new radical social movements and thinkers. From Mexican Zapatistas and Argentine piqueteros to the German Autonomen, from the Brazilian sem-terra and sem-teto to the civil unrest in Greece, we can see that conformism is by no means absolute, even if it is ‘generalised.’ Capitalism’s ability to ‘tame’ or ‘domesticate’ people cannot be underestimated, but it should not be overestimated as well, and the last two decades have proved it. Many of these movements and thinkers are clearly or at least partly left-libertarian ([neo-]anarchist, autonomist) in their identity and nature, while many of them, on the other hand, still present Marxist and often even Leninist discursive and/or practical elements. That is to say, many of them are more or less ‘hybrid.’ But in many cases we can see attempts to consciously overcome ‘state-centrism’ and verticality - that is, (Marxism-)Leninism in a very deep sense.
Geography’s (and sociology’s) ‘radical turn’ in the 1970s was actually a Marxist turn. Not much attention was devoted to libertarian traditions. In the new framework of the last two decades, however, left-libertarian authors have been sometimes (re)discovered (from Élisée Reclus and Piotr Kropotkin to more contemporary authors such as Cornelius Castoriadis and Murray Bookchin), though partly much more outside than inside the disciplinary field of geography. And in many cases, these authors and their ideas have been regarded more as valuable and interesting ‘artefacts’ in a ‘museum’ of the radical thought than as ‘weapons’ in an ‘arsenal.’. But things have changed also in the academic world since the turn of the century, towards a more important role of libertarian ideas.
The scenario of a widespread ‘libertarian turn’ similar to the ‘radical turn’ of the 1970s is for several reasons unlikely; nevertheless, considering some current trends, the hypothesis of a ‘medium-sized’ ‘libertarian turn’ (probably as an important part of a broader re-emergence of radical ideas) is totally plausible. As a matter of fact, my hypothesis is that such a partial or ‘medium-sized’ ‘libertarian turn’ is already ongoing. The next years will probably be years of economic crisis, social unrest, and state repression worldwide, but also a time of creative struggle and new socio-political experiments. And libertarian ideas, theories, and praxis will certainly have a place in this framework, as they have already had since the 1990s. How can socio-spatial research contribute to understand (and sometimes perhaps to inspire or at least support) these possible scenarios?
Unlearning the power: Geography and libertarian education beyond the borders in the works of Élisée Reclus, James Guillaume and Francisco Ferrer
The movement known as ‘libertarian pedagogy’ was firstly defined in the second half of the 19th century, when it was strongly based on internationalist political practices, participated by several geographers who were at the same time anarchist activists.
In this period, the first affirmation of the importance to self-organize the schools according to libertarian principles came from the activists of the Swiss Fédération Jurassienne, who stated the revolutionary value of practising public, laic and libertarian teaching within the popular classes. Many of them, like Élisée Reclus (1830-1905), Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), Léon Metchnikoff (1838-1888) and Charles Perron (1837-1909), were geographers, and Geography played a primary role in the affirmation of libertarian pedagogies in the following decades.
This paper deals with the relationships between a geographer like Reclus and some libertarian educators very close to him like Francisco Ferrer y Guardia (1859-1909), the founder of the Escuela Moderna in Barcelona, and James Guillaume (1844-1916), biographer of Pestalozzi and neglected pioneer of the establishment of laic education in France. I explore their works and correspondences to elucidate the respective roles of Geography and Anarchism in influencing different experiences of libertarian and popular education which took place in Europe between the 19th and the 20th centuries, crossing both national and disciplinary frontiers.
Finally, I stress the importance of the relationship between geographical sciences and libertarian thinking for the present debates on public education, laicism, multiculturalism, antiauthoritarian pedagogies.
Undisciplinating Geography, or how and why to turn down the dominating specialization process in conversing with Élisée Reclus’ work.
Geography has undergone many transformations since its first steps as a science during the 19th century. No geographer can deny that these transformations brought geography to a level of knowledge unknown before. Among the paths followed to reach such a stage, one finds disciplinarization.
This paper deals with the idea that we may radically rethink and push forward geography in a anarchist way, by turning down disciplinarization, by “going backward”, thus looking for a geography emancipated from any form of disciplining. A “geography without adjective”, as Claude Raffestin puts it. The latter hopefully reminds us that “Geography, as human science, does not give itself piece by piece but all at once, completely and totally.”
In questioning the frontiers within geography we will end up, with Élisée Reclus, crossing the very frontiers of geography and start conversing with other fields of human knowledge. Such a movement will force us to rethink, in an anarchist way, notions like inter-, trans, or even post-disciplinarity. But more importantly it will modify our understanding and relation with “our” object of study, the very world in which we live.
Figures like Claude Raffestin and Éric Dardel (1899-1967) will help me conversing with Élisée Reclus, as well as some of his contemporaries, among whom we find Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) and Élie Reclus (1827-1904).
Why did Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) choose “social geography” but not “ecology” ?
Within a trend for a libertarian turn and, more generally, in a context of problems faced by mankind, ecology and environment are big issues, not only on concrete and practical level but also, and maybe much concerning, on intellectual level.
Aiming to build present and future solutions which turn back to the state-communist and liberal-state capitalisms, and since we live in an hyper-modern and hyper-industrial world (not post-modern, neither post-industrial), we have to check carefully ideas that emerged during the century of the growing industrial revolution, the XIXth century.
During this period, ideas was crushed by darwinism and pasteurism in science. Interface between Man and Nature were revolutionarized. Overtaking conventional sciences like natural history and geography, many scientists searched to deal with it, and to propose new categories, new methodologies, new approaches, new sciences : mesology (Robin, 1848 ; Bertillon, 1860), ethology (Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, 1859), ecology (Haeckel, 1866), physiography (Huxley, 1870), hexicology (Mivart, 1880) or bionomy (Lankester, 1889).
Within this conceptual but also ideological battle, why did Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) choose “social geography” but not “ecology” ? And why this question is currently valuable?
Sketches of a post-statist geography
The anarchist Gustav Landauer argued that “the state is a social relationship” (2010 : 214) nearly a century before academic geographers discovered this avenue of reasoning. For Landauer and other anarchists, the state is an artifice (of both governmental organisation and way of being in the world) that institutionalises and reproduces spatial imaginations, processes and practices bound to an interlocking system of capitalism and authority. While geographers (eg. Painter 2006) have acknowledged these factors, it endures deep within our understandings, discourses and analyses. This has several effects. First, it naturalises a territorial view of space that is objectively calculable, knowable and ownable (Elden 2005). Second, it obscures the nature of the state as a form of colonial space writ small (Springer 2012). Third, it territorialises national identities in ways that shape exclusionary attitudes towards ethnic and cultural difference. Fourth, it closes down possibilities for imagining and enacting forms of social organisation that do not adhere to statist frameworks. In this paper, I explore the possibilities of developing a ‘post-statist’ geography that is intersectional with feminism, anti-racism, anti-ableism, postcolonialism, and other struggles against oppression. Recognising statism as an oppressive social relationship that is manifested in everyday life not only opens up the geographical imagination to new avenues of critical analysis but also to new avenues for identifying and fighting myriad everyday violences. This paper builds a theoretical grounding on which a post-statist geography can begin to be built, and offers practical suggestions for ejecting statism from our research methods, academic lexicons and theories, as well as everyday socialities and political strategies.