Stuart Elden is a professor of geography and political theory at Warwick University (UK) and Monash University (Australia). His fearsome appetite for hard books is charted at his blog Progressive Geographies*, which also includes all sorts of useful resources, from bibliographies on Boko Haram and the Ebola crisis to compilations of material by and about Foucault and Lefebvre.
He’s also recently published a Big Book: The Birth of Territory, a history of a key concept in political geography from the classical to the early modern period. I’ve just bought a copy: some of my current research on refugee camps involves thinking about them in the Foucauldian terms of population and territory that Elden explores. (I’ll be reading a lot more work in geography over the next few years, I suspect.) It’ll be interesting to see what impact it has in history departments, but it’s already made a splash in geography: published in September 2013, by April 2014 it was the subject of a special forum at the American Association of Geographers annual conference. The appraisals presented there, and Elden’s response to them, have just come out in an online pre-publication version in Political Geography (you’ll need a library subscription to read them, unfortunately).
And that, in fact, is the point of this post: not to write about Elden, but to salute Juliet J. Fall, professor of political and environmental geography at the University of Geneva (and no slouch herself), who gave her comments on the book in the form of a short animation made with her children’s Playmobil and Lego figures.
Worth watching and thinking about—and admiring Prof Fall’s bravery in doing something different in the heavily formalized context of an academic conference (‘I cannot pretend that I wasn’t shaking’). In the printed version of the forum she also has some thoughtful words about that.
We all know our academic lives and performances are largely ritualized and standardized, and that perhaps we end up believing that this familiar environment provides a safe grounding for our independent thinking. We learn – differently, it turns out, in different academic cultures – how to write, to argue, to critique. We are carefully schooled in how to behave in such a world. You don’t, usually, throw toys at a milestone.
She borrowed the children’s toys again for a presentation on feminist political geography last October.
*Charmingly, the title Progressive Geographies is a declaration of musical affiliation as well as a political statement.
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