I’m gearing up for the annual Royal Geographical Society-IBG conference in London later in the week. I have found the conference to be very uneven in the past but am really looking forward to it this year. It looks like the discipline is in a really healthy place at the minute with lots of theoretically informed engagements coming into fruition and others just opening.
It will be a very busy conference for me as I am taking part in four panels, two of which I set up and two of which I will present papers on.
First up is a panel discussion I organized around the theme of Thinking the Anthropocene with Kathryn Yussof, Nigel Clark, Angela Last and Jan Zalasiewicz. I have written about Kathryn and Nigel here before and am really looking forward to hearing Angela’s new thoughts (she runs the great blog, Mutable Matter: I particularly like that she manages to be both genuinely interdisciplinary and rigorous and her work takes in geography, philosophy, political theory and contemporary art – a range of concerns that very much match the intersection of my own). It will also be pleasure to welcome Jan who is a truly amazing speaker and something like the ‘public face’ of the anthropocene. It is great to have the perspective of an ‘actual geologist’ on board too, especially one so intellectually open to engaging with a wide range of perspectives and with political and philosophical questions. In a rather incredible piece of conference scheduling (!!!) this session sadly clashes with Bruce Braun’s keynote lecture for Antipode (more details of the talk and a special virtual issue of Antipode on ecological politics can be found here). The Antipode talk is usually a highlight of the conference and its particularly unfortunate that there is a schedule clash with Bruce’s talk not only as I will miss it but because he is a major voice in the broad field of social-nature that those of us involved in the Anthropocene panel locate the concerns we are addressing.
Both the anthropocene panel and Bruce’s talk will relate closely to the two sessions on Geo-Social Formations: Capitalism and the Earth that Kathryn, Nigel and Arun Saldanha have organized that morning, the second of which I will chair. I would like to have given a paper but was too heavily committed already to do so. The panels look great, building on the conference discussions earlier in the year at Minneapolis and Los Angeles I spoke about here before (and of course on the great work Kathryn and Nigel have long been doing) but this time bringing the broader debates around the anthropocene towards a critique of capital. I am particularly looking forward to Stuart Elden’s paper on ‘terracide’. I have followed Stuart’s work on the ‘Geo’ and the ‘World’ with great interest but have not had the chance to hear this work in person before. I am sure the dark shadow of Reza Negarestani will hang over proceedings for me.
Third is a panel on the theme of Eschatology and World Politics that I co-organized with Ross Adams (UCL, Bartlett School of Architecture / London Consortium) which takes its jumping off point from Carl Schmitt’s ideas on political theology and secularization but seeks to engage with the ways in which eschatological philosophies of history relate to conceptions of world politics (the ‘world’ here being understood as a spatial concept in a variety of registers). I will be presenting some of my recent work on Schmitt’s spatial histories, similar to what I aired at this years AAG in Los Angeles with a slight different focus and hopefully with time to push more on the question of a planetary politics that Schmitt raises. I am looking forward to Ross’ paper as he is developing some fascinating work on the history of urbanism as a specific way of thinking spatial politics and the city as a particular form of governmental apparatus that draws on Schmitt, Foucault and Koselleck in interesting ways. We are delighted to be hosting Mika Luoma-aho, a really interesting International Relations thinker based in Finland who wrote a great book on God and International Relations: Christian Theology and World Politics recently drawing heavily on Schmitt’s thought. I am looking forward to probing Mika about the strange nexus of Left Schmitt scholars that seems to have coalesced in Finland, including Mikas Ojakangas and Sergei Prozorov, whose work I greatly appreciate (I have theories about Finland’s frontier with Russia – where a very different reading of Schmitt and space circulates amongst the far Right geopoliticians of ‘Eurasianism’). Also taking part is Gerry Aiken from Durham who I have not met before but will present what looks to be great work on climate change and apocalyptic thought (roughly where I end up in my own presentation).
Lastly I will take part in a panel on Abstractions organized by Alex Loftus on Friday morning. I am not too sure what to expect from this panel yet but Alex is a great guy and I enjoyed working with him when we were both at Royal Holloway’s Geography Department. His work on ecological politics is great and I am particularly impressed by his persistent engagement with Antonio Gramsci as well as his deep interest in the political dimensions and potentials of contemporary art. I am also really looking forward to Harriet Hawkins’ paper on abstract art here (Harriet is another former colleague from Royal Holloway whose work is in Geography but spans engagements with art and some very interesting work on materiality). My own paper will be rather general in scope laying out some broad schematic reflections on the relationship between geographic thought and contemporary philosophy and relating this to my interest in geo-social relations on the one hand and the difficulties involved in the ‘realist’ tradition of political thought’s supposed commitment to the ‘concrete’ on the other. It is a bit of an experiment but I am glad that Alex invited me to take part so that I might be pushed to formalize some these thoughts more and attempt to bridge the connection between various strands of my research that I feel relate to each other but am often too happy to leave nestled beside each other rather than systematically interrogate. This panel will hopefully provide a step in the right direction here.
I am also looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from the UK and the US, including many of those I had the pleasure to meet earlier this year in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and older colleagues like David Featherstone and Alan Ingram (Alan served as one of my PhD examiners and he will be presenting some of the work related to his project on art and geopolitics at the conference which I look forward to greatly). It is always a pleasure to catch up with people at conferences and hear about other people’s work, both in papers and in the bar afterwards, and they can serve as really useful forums for putting wind in the sails of individual projects and building collective momentum around shared endeavours. I think this will be one of those occasions. I will give some sort of report when the dust has settled.