New Paper: Inorganic Becomings: Situating the Anthropocene in Puchuncavi – Environmental Humanities

Our paper on experiencing the Anthropocene in Puchuncavi Bay (Chile) is now out. It is a collaboration between fellow materialist scholars, Manual Tironi, Myra Hird, Christian Simonetti, and Nate Freiburger. You can access the full article by following the link below.

https://read.dukeupress.edu/environmental-humanities/article/10/1/187/134706/Inorganic-BecomingsSituating-the-Anthropocene-in

Abstract

In this choral essay we, an assorted group of academics interested in inorganic life and matter, explore a mode of thinking and feeling withour objects of inquiry—chemicals, waste, cement, gas, and the “project” as a particular form of circulation and enactment of materials and things. To experiment with alternative modes of knowing, we went to Puchuncaví, the largest, oldest, and most polluting industrial compound in Chile, to encounter the inorganic through and with its inorganicness and to attend to the situated, historicized, and political composition of both our materials and our experiences. Thinking of this as a collective provocation, we do not rehearse a conventional argument. Its parts are connected but only partially. There is no dramatic arc but rather an attempt at composing an atmosphere through which our thought and feelings are invoked. We have made visible the authorship behind each of the stories recounted here to celebrate the multivocality of our collaboration and to rehearse a nonabstracted mode of attention to Puchuncaví and the inorganic forces and entities we encountered there. We connect our irritations and speculations with the Anthropocene precisely as a way of summoning the multiple violences, many of them of planetary reach, that have to be denounced when situating our knowledge practices in Puchuncaví. Thinking about the ethico-political challenges of research in territories that have been, and are being, transformed under the weighty history of contamination and that are lived in and lived with by generations of beings (human and otherwise), we call in our concluding remarks for an enhanced pedagogy of care born of our inherited pasts and of engagement, interest, and becoming as response-ability.

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New Paper: Circulations beyond Nodes: (in)securities along the pipeline – Mobilities

I’m pleased to announce that my first single-authored paper has been published. It forms part of a special issue edited by Matthias Leese and Stef Wittendorp, entitled ‘Old Securities, New Mobilities’. In it, I draw attention to the opportunities that mobilities approaches can offer for studying security beyond the circulatory ‘nodes’ in which its’ analysis has been recently confined. The paper and its’ abstract can be accessed here, but if you do not have access through your institution, please get in touch via email – I have a limited number of free copies that I am very happy to share.

If you are interested, make sure that you also check out the other articles that are part of this special issue – two of these are currently in early access and have been linked below. More are to come.

Old Securities, New Mobilities – eta. February, 2018

Glouftsios, G. (2017) Governing circulation through technology within EU border security practice-networks http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450101.2017.1403774

Leese, M. (2017) Standardizing security: the business case politics of borders http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450101.2017.1403777 

 

Guest Blog: Hard to Follow Things – Natural Gas

@Followthethings has just published my post on the methodological challenges of following natural gas. You can check it out here:  https://followtheblog.org/2017/08/21/guest-post-hard-to-follow-things-natural-gas-by-peter-forman/

While you are at it, why not also check out Ian and his students’ work on their other website, www.followthethings.com?

Review: Dobraszczyk et al. (2016) ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’

This book review was written on behalf of the RGS-IBG Urban Geographies Research Group, and is reproduced here with their permission. For more book reviews, and for an overview of their current work, please go to: http://urban-geography.org.uk/

Dobraszczyk, P., López Galviz, C., & Garrett, L. (2016) “Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within.” London: Reaktion Books

ISBN: 978-1-78023-576-9

Reviewed by Peter Forman

Depth is currently proving a popular dimension for geographical analysis (Elden, 2013; Bridge, 2013; Graham, 2016; Squire 2017). Dobraszczyk et al.’s (2016) edited collection, ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’, published by Reaktion Books, contributes to geographers’ efforts to document the relationships between underground – and often unseen – environments, and typically more familiar social formations on the surface. Their book consists of an extraordinarily extensive collection of ethnographic accounts that vividly narrate experiences of underground sites from across the planet. From sewers, storm drains and built-over waterways in cities such as Istanbul, Bogotá, Las Vegas, Cape Town and London, to tunnels, caves, catacombs, mines, metros, data centres, bunkers, and nuclear storage sites, the breadth of accounts is matched only by the diversity of the collection’s authors (which include cultural historians, urban geographers, geographers of art, history, politics and culture, sociologists, archaeologists, journalists, artists, and scholars of literary studies and the history of science). Indeed, the book comprises the single largest collection of subterranean stories to date. Illustrated with over 75 full-colour photographs, it invites its readers to repeatedly dip below the surface, guiding them on a series of fleeting, but evocative, below-ground excursions.

This emphasis on the affective forcefulness of subterranean environments, and the ways in which undergrounds assert themselves on human bodies (both corporeally and cognitively), is a unifying theme in this collection. Dobraszczyk et al.’s principal aim is not just to emphasise the connectedness of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground spaces, but to dispel any notion that the underground is a purely technological domain; a linear site/surface that simply supports ‘above-ground’ structures. Readers are called to appreciate the astonishing multiplicity of ways in which subterranean environments and urban existence have been, are, and increasingly will be, mutually constitutive. Undergrounds are presented as sites of analysis that can help us to better understand what it means to ‘be’ in the world: a question that drives the broadly phenomenological approach of these accounts. We are invited to travel alongside the writers as they make their descents; to vicariously experience these below-ground spaces, and along the way, to ‘remain mobile’ in our imaginations (p. 16) so that we might become sensitive to new connections between the surface, subsurface, matter and human practices, and so that we might develop new appreciations for how urban life is fundamentally entangled with the dynamic and vital worlds beneath our feet.

A second objective, and one that is particularly relevant to urban, rural and cultural geographers, is to expand the sites understood to constitute urban life. Many of the locations discussed here exceed the spatial limits of what is traditionally thought of as ‘urban’. From the mushroom-shaped bunkers strewn across Albania’s rural landscapes, to a proposed nuclear storage site 100 miles outside Las Vegas; or to the Svalbard global seed vault, located far from any centre of human population, the authors present us with a variety of underground environments that appear distinctly removed from urban life. Yet these disparate spaces are shown to be intimately linked. Urban existence is shown to be predicated upon distanced undergrounds, and these sites are revealed to be products of urban ways of life. The authors consequently offer an account where what it means to be ‘urban’ is significantly expanded.

The book is unusual however, in that it does not try to rigidly group these accounts, nor does it try to neatly tie together the numerous loose threads that multiply along the way. It is purposefully open-ended. Its thirteen thematic sections are loose and overlap, and there is no conclusion through which these tangled stories are folded into a coherent narrative. Instead, what the underground is, and what its relationships with the surface are, frays and multiplies. As the editors reflect, the aim was to create a book that is ‘less documentary and more aspirational’ (p. 20); one where readers can make their own connections, and are inspired to join in in documenting the underground. It is an exercise in opening up, not closing down.

This is not to say that connections are not explicitly drawn. Indeed, the book is at its strongest when it grapples with social inequalities and threats to human life rendered visible through studying these spaces. Highlights include accounts of how undergrounds illuminate the violences of socio-political structures on the surface, from the forcing below ground of left-wing political advocates and impoverished inhabitants in Bogotá (who shelter in city sewers to avoid death squads), to homeless people in the USA, who are forced underground by neoliberal policies, finding shelter in places such as the bottom of Whacker Drive, Chicago, or in the storm drains of Las Vegas.

Yet ‘Global Undergrounds’ is not flawless. Whilst the editors claim to depart from the exoticism present in existing accounts of undergrounds, they are only partly successful in this endeavour. There is a familiar language of mysticism and otherness that liberally peppers these stories, and the book presents the reader with a vision of multiple subterranean worlds waiting to be explored, ready to be mined for scholarly profit. When combined with the book’s many photographs, its grand geographical scope and its journalistic style, the result is a pervasive sense of voyeurism that is reminiscent of well-known accounts of early explorers. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that many of the writers self-identify as explorers themselves.

Yet whilst this might seem significant, it is not a substantive critique. This language is often communicative of the existing myths and imaginaries that surround these spaces, and it is testimony to the way that these environments make voluble utterances. Whilst geographers might question the nature of the subterranean gaze promoted in this book, the underground is not reduced to a speechless and passive ‘other’: it speaks loudly through its ever-present materialities, and through the ways that it draws in its narrators.

Perhaps most significantly, one of the book’s great successes is also the way that it consistently illuminates alternative narratives that would otherwise remain buried. From the lives of the present-day homeless living in sewer networks, to the forgotten histories of cities past, or the stories of exploited workers who constructed these spaces, care is taken to avoid privileging the narratives of those ‘who have the power to plan, transform and manipulate urban space’ (p. 17). As such, whilst I am wary of the language accompanying these accounts (and the necessity of this must be reflected upon), its negative consequences are not immediately clear. It may simply speak of the significant allure of these environments, or perhaps more cynically, of its value for promoting an underground research agenda. If so, then the authors have certainly achieved their goal: I aspire to know more. Reading ‘Global Undergrounds’ is an invigorating experience – one that raises far more questions than it answers, and one that urges its readers to continue the work its authors have begun.

References

Elden, S. (2013) ‘Secure the Volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power’ Political Geography 34(1) pp.35-51.

Bridge, G. (2013) ‘The Hole World: Scales and spaces of extraction’ New Geographies 2 pp.43-8.

Graham, S. (2016) ’Vertical: The city from satellites to bunkers’ London: Verso

Squire, R. (2017) ‘’Do You Dive?’: Methodological considerations for engaging with volume’ Geography Compass 11(7) pp.e12319. <https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12319&gt;

New Paper: “A Material Politics of Citizenship” – Citizenship Studies

Our article for Citizenship Studies is now out in early access! Entitled ‘A Material Politics of Citizenship: The potential of circulating materials in UK immigration removal centres’, this paper forms part of a special issue edited by Gaja Maestri & Sarah Hughes on contested spaces of citizenship.

In this article, Sarah Hughes and I explore the ways in which acts of citizenship are mediated through the actions of diverse materials. Drawing on doctoral research conducted by Sarah Hughes (Durham, UK), we describe how the materials circulating out of UK immigration removal centres can hold within them the potential for the making of new claims to citizenship, and how certain materials consequently become subjected to different kinds of governance practices. We also draw attention to how the political entanglements that these materials may form in the future may exceed our understanding, potentially opening up unexpected future claims to citizenship as well as troubling the notion of human intent within every kind of citizenship act or practice of resistance.

To view this paper, and other papers in this special issue, go to Taylor & Francis’s website: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13621025.2017.1341659

If your institution does not have access to Citizenship Studies, please contact me on peter.forman[@]wiso.uni-tuebingen.de. I have a limited number of free codes, so first come, first serve!

Abstract: Governing Gas: Energy, Security, Circulation

Thesis submitted December 2016. Abstract below.

Natural gas is a troublesome and ‘wayward’ material (Bridge, 2004; 396). Amongst other qualities, it is invisible, intangible, naturally odorless, highly inflammable, and constantly resistant to the forces that contain it. This thesis provides an account of how these qualities both introduce a series of insecurities to everyday social environments, and also make it a challenging material to govern. Specifically, I examine the way that security is performed around gas circulations in the UK’s transmission and distribution pipelines, and I describe how a range of specialised security practices have been developed according to the particular challenges that gas’s materiality presents.

In developing this account, I make two claims. First, I argue that performances of security cannot be adequately understood without attending to the specific qualities of the circulating elements around which it is practiced. Here I develop upon Dillon’s (1996) observation that security has tended to be treated as a noun that is independent of the elements that it is practiced in relation to. As a consequence, it has typically been framed as a broadly transferrable set of practices that can be more-or-less unproblematically applied to very different elements. I suggest that this abstraction has resulted in the further reduction of security into two broad practices: acts of circulatory filtration (in which risky elements are separated from flows of safe bodies, materials and things), and acts of circulatory maintenance (whereby security is performed by ensuring the continuity of particular circulations). It is my contention in this thesis that security scholars need to pay better attention to the ways in which the specific material qualities of circulating elements are generative of particular forms of securing practice. Indeed, by examining the way that security is performed around gas, I describe a series of practices that far exceed those described in accounts that present security as a matter of circulatory filtration or maintenance.

My second claim is that the spaces and scales at which security is analysed need to be expanded. I demonstrate how the critical security studies and energy security literatures have both tended to focus on security’s practice within particular nodes, at the exclusion of the performances of security (and forms of insecurity) that develop across the journeys of circulating elements; as they move between nodes. Indeed, I suggest that circulation has often been reduced in these accounts to thin, straight, and featureless lines that are largely inconsequential for performances of security. I seek to trouble this reduction, following gas as it travels through the UK gas transport infrastructures, tracing the various forms of (in)security that develop across these journeys.

As a consequence of these two claims, security takes quite a different form in this account to its various depictions in the existing security literatures. I describe it as consisting of a series of ontological projects that are enacted across the lengths and breadths of gas’s circulations, and through which the material reality of natural gas is constantly (re)organised in attempts to facilitate, ‘compensate for’, and ‘cancel out’ particular kinds of perceived potential phenomena (Foucault, 2007; 36). Significantly, these performances are shown to be structured, or ‘programmed’ (Latour, 1991), through the coming together of multiple interests that pertain to a variety of heterogeneous actors and manifold referent objects. Different interests are shown to come together across gas’s journeys, and to undergo ongoing processes of negotiation that result in a variety of security performances, through which different imperatives are pursued. As such, I suggest that gas becomes ‘modulated’ (Deleuze, 1992) – it is constantly transformed from moment to moment, across the full duration of its circulatory journeys.

Undergraduate Guide: Reflections from the Other Side

Please click on the link below to download the short guide that I recently put together for first year human geography undergraduates. It provides a series of reflections upon things I wish I had known or done differently when I was doing my undergraduate degree. It covers topics such as how to find literature and read efficiently, how to take high quality, useful notes, how to structure and write persuasive essays, and how to prepare for and write exams. Hopefully someone will find it useful!

Undergraduate Guide