Experimental Geographies

"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)


I’m a cultural and historical geographer by training. Broadly speaking my research focuses on 4 main lines of enquiry: 

1) Historical Geographies of Performance

I am currently finishing a book manuscript, Metropolitan Theatrics: Performing the Modern in Weimar Berlin in which I chart the unsettling and reshaping of everyday life in Weimar Berlin between 1919 and 1933. The manuscript is concerned with the multidisciplinary insights of performance studies and recent geographical approaches to the study of the modern city. Berlin’s restless relationship with the ‘modern’ offers, it is argued, an ideal historical milieu in which to test performance theory while at the same time question some of its presentist assumptions. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, the study explores the political role of performance – from theatrical representation to modern dance, scientific experimentation to everyday practice – in order to clarify the specific conjunction of representation and theatricality that allied ‘Berlin’ with ‘modernity.’

While much of my research has focused on providing a thick description of various ‘performance cultures’ in interwar Berlin, I have also begun preliminary work on a second project, The Auditory City: Music and Modernism in Central Europe, 1880-1933 in which I investigate the fin-de-siècle soundscapes of Berlin, Vienna, and Prague.

In a more methodological vein, I’m also interested in pursuing research that attempts to bring performance-based methodologies to the study of historical geography. Some of these issues are explored in a recent edited collection (with Liz Gagen and Hayden Lorimer) about the archive.

2) Spatial Politics/Artistic Practice 

I’m working on a new project which explores the relationship between ‘landscape’ and photographic representation. I’ve already written on the work of Jeff Wall, Joan Fontcuberta, and Beate Gütshow and I’ve now begun a much larger programme of research which focuses on the changing status of ‘landscape’ within a broad range of contemporary work. I’m particularly interested in what it might mean to take a look at recent photographs of landscapes. I would like to ask, what happens when looking at photographs has begun to take the place of looking at (or for that matter being-in-the-world) and what is the relationship of ‘landscape’ to this problematic? While there is a growing body of scholarship on contemporary art photography, I wish to reflect on why a certain understanding of ‘landscape’ has increasingly come to reside at the very centre of advanced photographic practice.

3) Alternative Urbanisms/Cartographies of Protest

I’ve just begun a new project (both archival and ethnographic) which seeks to highlight the role and significance of the German Hausbesetzer Bewegung (squatter movement) from the 1960s onwards. While there is a growing body of literature on the role of ‘1968’ as a watershed moment in the evolution of new social movements in West Germany, there remains little empirical work on the role of squatter movements within a broader matrix of protest and resistance. A first wave of squatting reached a peak in West German cities (especially Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a second wave briefly moved into abandoned tenement blocks in the eastern half of Berlin. A scholarly recognition of the German Hausbesetzer Bewegung  shifts some of the attention back to the pivotal role of the built form – and geography more generally – in the creation of alternative lifestyles and new forms of collective empowerment. The perspectives and practices of squatters also offers a critical point of purchase on more recent debates about ‘rights to the city’ and the role of community planning and participatory architecture in shaping grassroots policy initiatives.

Ultimately, my main motivation for this project is to not only offer a thick description of the everyday practices of squatting but to relocate the squatter movement within recent debates surrounding the political geography of the contemporary city. I’m particularly interested here in tracking emergent forms of ‘architectural activism’ as a tactic for the building of new urban ‘commons.’

4) Spaces of Enclosure

I’ve also been working with two colleagues, Alex Jeffrey (Newcastle University) and Colin McFarlane (Durham University) on a longstanding collaborative project which explores the significance of the concept of ‘enclosure’ as a rubric for making sense of the inter-articulation of neo-liberal norms and a resurgent and violent form of geo-politics. By ‘enclosure’, we are referring, in particular, to the wholesale transformation of commonable lands into privately owned plots and the simultaneously extinction of long-standing customary common rights to the use of that land. ‘Enclosure’, we believe, speaks not only to the vagaries of primitive accumulation but also to the recent recrudescence of an aggrandized mode of statist and para-statist violence.  Our overarching point of departure is the seizure of the commons by different actors through time, and  across a wide range of sites, scales, and territories. We are also in interested in tracking the myriad assemblages of enclosure – the technologies through which material enclosures (‘walls’ or ‘partitions’) are stabilised, regulated and policed. Ultimately, we are keen to explore the question of how individuals resist/reformulate practices of enclosure. What forms of insurgent citizenship/subjectivity are prominent in practices of enclosure? To what extent can we identify a recognisable counter measure (a process of ‘commonsisation’)?

One comment on “Research

  1. K. Hawkins
    December 14, 2010

    I’m a Fine Art student with a background in photography and geography.
    I happened upon this site while looking for Nato Thompson’s (out of print) book of the same name and I’m interested in your enclosure research.

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