Just Released: The Handbook of Neoliberalism

In which I have a chapter arguing we should stop talking about neoliberalism immediately.  (The editors are very patient people…)

The Handbook of Neoliberalism edited by Simon Springer, Kean Birch and Julie MacLeavy is now available. This new volume, published by Routledge, includes over 50 chapters from leading researchers in the field and stands as the largest collection ever assembled on the topic. At over 600 pages it is intended as a reference volume, and the editors hope you might consider asking your local library to carry a copy. More details can be found here.

Judith Butler’s new book

A new book from one of the world’s leading philosophers brims with ideas about gender, collective action and insecurity. Judith Butler giving a talk in Barcelona on November 15 2015. Credit: https://vimeo.com/147698825. Some rights reserved. It is impossible to under-estimate the exceptional contribution to political understanding provided in the writing of Judith Butler. Her work,…

via Gathering and assembling: Judith Butler on the future of politics — openDemocracy

CFP: The Materiality of Nothing

The Materiality of Nothing will be a one day symposium at Lancaster University on 14th July, 10.00-17.00. It will bringing together practice and perspectives on negotiating the absent, unseen and unknown across art, science and social science. Across the arts and sciences that we call ‘zero’ ,‘absence’ or ‘nothing’ remains a potent and powerful entity shaping the way we make sense of the world. It is staggering to reflect that 95% of our universe is invisible to human sensing; the provocation of the unknown and unseen is arguably at the core of creative thinking in the arts and sciences.

This event brings together a range  perspectives on materialising the absent, unseen and unknown to reflect on the following questions:

  • How can ‘nothing’ be embodied?
  • How does it feel to encounter the immaterial and how might we negotiate it?
  • How might mathematics – as a speculative ‘messenger’ to and from the unsensed – be understood as a medium for generating touch and relationship (or not)?
  • How might absence, uncertainty be used as provocations and tool for creative thinking?
  • What can this offer in terms of understanding relationship and non-relationship, affect and non affect?

The event will provide an opportunity to extend conversations initiated by the AHRC funded ‘Dark Matters’ project which considered the provocations around Thresholds of Imperceptibility.   It aims to building on the success of a workshop at Lancaster (2015) and to develop a network of researchers working with the interstices between presence and absence from the arts and humanities, the social and physical sciences.

Speakers include: Anna Lovatt ( SM University, Dallas) , Gary Sangster ( Director Arts Catalyst) Charlie Gere ( Lancaster University) Bron Szerzinski ( Lancaster University) Liz deFreitas (Manchester Metropolitan University) Rebecca Fortnum ( Middlesex University) Ian Bailey and Laura Kormos ( Lancaster University).

Registration:  Please sign up via Eventbrite  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-materiality-of-nothing-tickets-25694368548

Please note: There will be  is a small registration fee of £15 to cover lunch and refreshments throughout the day. The link to payment will be emailed to all participants prior to the event.

Call for drawings, notebooks and things we think with : As part of the
event there will be a session on Negotiating the Imperceptible. We invite
workshop participants to submit small drawings , notebooks or other object they
use in thinking around the intangible.

To submit a work, please send an image and description email Sarah Casey.

Gentle Geographies

Silence rather than speaking.  Vulnerability rather than power.  Weakness rather than strength.  Rest rather than action.  Connectedness rather than autonomy.

As someone tangled up in the tradition of democracy, I too often assume the latter terms are self evidently good.  And so I am not in the habit of thinking in the former terms.  But they are just as necessary to democracy.  In that spirit, I post the following call for submissions…


Deadline for submissions and booking – 14th June.

Submissions are invited from researchers (at any career stage) addressing gentle concepts and/or methodologies for the first of two one-day seminars.

Following the Gentle Geographies session at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2015, the seminar series, will explore and extend the themes considered there through two one-day seminars:

  • Seminar 1: A Gentle Alertness to Geographies of the (Non)human & (Ir)Responsibilities, 28th June 2016 at the University of Exeter
  • Seminar 2: A Gentle Alertness to the Geographies of Disabilities, (In)Justices & Activism(s), September 2016 at Newcastle University (Date and CFP to follow. Confirmed speakers include Kye Askins and John Horton)

The seminars are being funded by the Participatory Geographies Research Group, Geographies of Justice Research Group, the Spatial Responsibilities Group at the University of Exeter and the School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape at Newcastle University.

Purpose of the seminars

The intention is provide a supportive environment for scholars at different stages of their career for engaged dialogue, creative exchanges and critical discussion/appraisal of the potential for ‘new’ conceptual and methodological directions in human geography. We hope to explore new themes and to return to those from the interactive session at the RGS-IBG AC2015, such as ‘gentleness’, ‘silences’, ‘quietness’, ‘gentle ways of knowing’, ‘doing’, ‘action’, ‘activism(s)’, ‘transformation’ and ‘progressive change’. We are also seeking to problematise the notion of ‘gentleness’ in all its shapes and sizes.

Seminar outline

Each seminar will take the following format:

  1. ‘Open Responses’ (10 minutes) from Nick Gill, Krithika Srinivasan, Laura Smith and Jonathan Cinnamon to the themes of the seminar in relation to their own research, teaching and practice;
  1. ‘Interactive Explorations’ (5-minutes) from up to ten researchers (at any stage) addressing gentle concepts and/or methodologies (two parallel sessions);
  1. ‘Where have we come? Where are we going?’ World Cafe Style session exploring the seminar theme and possible outcomes/publications plans.

Cost and Bursaries

Those who are able are asked to provide a voluntary contribution of £10 and cover their own travel costs. Five travel bursaries (for travel from within the UK) are available for each seminar allocated on the basis of relevance and need. Applicants will be asked to provide a summary of their research interests in the seminar topic (no more than 1 page) including what they feel they will gain from the event. Applications will be selected which most closely reflect the goals and orientation of the Working Groups, and these will be ranked as follows:

  1. Postgraduate or unwaged
  2. Holds junior academic temporary post with no source of funding
  • Holds junior permanent post with no source of funding
  1. Holds senior academic post with no source of funding

To take part

To register your interest please contact m.d.finn@exeter.ac.uk including a 250 word abstract if you would like to present one of the ‘Interactive Explorations’ (point 2 above). Deadline for submissions and booking – 14th June.


Dr Matt Finn

Lecturer in Human Geography

@mattmattfinn | Website – course related tweets @MFGeog
Geography, College of Life and Environmental Science | University of Exeter

@exetergeography | Website


CFP: Ed Soja and Jackie Leavitt

See details on Critical Planning Journal’s website here: https://criticalplanning.squarespace.com/config#/|/call-for-papers/

CPJ invites all forms of submissions on the life and contributions of Jacqueline Leavitt and Edward W. Soja. In 2015 the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA lost two leading urban planners, thinkers, and activists. We invite contributions from friends, colleagues, collaborators, and students, as well as other activists, scholars, journalists, artists, students, and professionals in the form of personal reflection, academic analysis, creative writing, poetry, visual art, film, etc. The format is open.

Jacqueline Leavitt inspired academics, community members, and activists with her critical calls to action and fierce commitment to justice. As a champion of gender equity, Leavitt’s research and community work revealed inequalities in housing and labor, and featured the experiences of women in domestic and international contexts. In an interview with Progressive Planning Magazine she noted that she “entered urban planning believing in its ability to support social movements through both rigorous research and ethical practice,” an approach she embodied in her teaching and scholarship, and instilled in her students. As we consider the future of planning, Leavitt’s legacy will undoubtedly guide those who wish to center the struggle for justice as they connect scholarship and activism.

Edward W. Soja was one of the great lights of late twentieth century human geography and driving voice behind the spatial turn in critical social theory. He developed what is arguably the most elegant conceptualization of the socio-spatial dialectic, and brought to light intersections in the spatial philosophies of Henri Lefebvre, bell hooks, and Michel Foucault. Soja then went on to initiate a dialogue between Marxism and poststructuralism at a time when these debates were at their most vitriolic. These efforts culminated in the creation of spatial trialectics and a robust space for Marxist-leaning geographers to engage with questions of alterity and thirdspace. Throughout, the question of postmodernism in the geography of urban and regional restructuring remained a grounding problematic for his scholarship, particularly in the context of Los Angeles, the city that was considered “exceedingly tough to track.” It was Soja’s commitment to the theory and praxis of social justice that remained the unifying concern.

Please send submissions to critplan@ucla.edu by July 1, 2016.

CRITICAL PLANNING JOURNAL is a peer-review journal founded and run by graduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles, and housed within the Department of Urban Planning.

Guest Editors: Susan Ruddick for Soja content: sue.ruddick [at] utoronto [dot] ca and Nina M. Flores for Leavitt content: nina.flores [at] gmail [dot] com.

Questions: please contact Managing Editor Kenton Card: kentoncard [at] ucla [dot] edu.

Hillary Clinton, Microfinance, and an Actually Democratic Alternative

Thomas Frank has an article in the latest Harper’s (April 2016) that I found to be really good work. The piece is, overall, a complaint about Hillary Clinton, but it registers some very specific, and, I think, important criticisms. The most compelling for me was Frank’s dismantling the idea, championed by all the Clintons, that microcredit is the way to help people in the global South out of poverty. This way of thinking[1] assumes that the problem poor people have is that they are “unbanked,” and so the whole effort is to “bank” them, i.e. have them enter into debtor relations with global corporate financial institutions. The larger agenda, and Frank breaks out the italics to drive it home, is to “extend Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.” The large banks, unsurprisingly, are all for it. In this light, the criticisms of Clinton for taking huge speaker fees from big banks take on real weight.

Frank points out that microcredit has been a disaster in the short term, in that it has produced little development and lots of debt. But of course, even if revenue trickles were being created in the short term, in the long-term the idea of extending debtor relations across the globe, “banking” a greater and greater percentage of the world’s population, is to the advantage of the banks and the disadvantage of everyone else.

In this context, I want to point to the work of Mahila Milan, a network of poor women in India who come together to pool their savings and manage that money collectively. I am not an expert on their work, but from what I understand the gist is that women who participate in Mahila Milan recognize that 1) they do not have access to financial resources, and that is a problem, but 2) they do not think streaming themselves into the formal banking system is the best solution to that problem, and so 3) they organize their own pool of money, and they also organize their own system for managing that money. The results are not perfect, I am sure, but the network does offer participants more access to money when they need it, without causing chronic indebtedness among members. Moreover — and I think this may be even more important — through their participation in the network, members grow stronger in their ability to both manage complex financial systems and collectively govern their community.

[1] Frank notes that this way of thinking is enthusiastically shared by the Gates Foundation.

Luce Irigaray at Bristol

Thinking Love – a three day conference with Luce Irigaray

On 9, 10 and 11 June 2016, a conference on ‘Thinking Love’ with Luce Irigaray will take place at the University of Bristol, UK. Each day will be devoted to a theme: Loving Life; Generational Love; Love between Lovers.

Talks will be given in the morning and other activities will be organised in the afternoon in connection with the theme of the day. The conference will be organised by Luce Irigaray in collaboration with the Universities of Bristol, Sussex, and the West of England.

If you have participated in one of the past seminars held by Luce Irigaray and would like to present a paper or propose another activity, please be in touch with Luce Irigaray (at this postal address: 15 rue Lakanal, 75015 Paris, France or at this email address: towardthinking@gmail.com) and send: a title and an abstract (no more by email!) of your eventual intervention.

If you want only to attend the conference, please contact Luce Irigaray at the same address. Participants in the Luce Irigaray International Seminar of 2016 can attend the conference. Practical details about the conference will be circulated later and a website will soon be open at the University of Bristol for registration.

Everyday Code

Here is the text from my talk at the AAG conference last week. It was for a really great session organized by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham (who are at the Oxford Internet Institute) on “An Informational Right to the City”.


Everyday Code: The Right to Information and Our Struggle for Democracy


Henri Lefebvre proposed a right to information, and he thought that right must be associated with a right to the city. I want to urge us to understand both those rights in the context of Lefebvre’s wider political project. That wider project was the struggle for self-management, what Lefebvre often called “autogestion,” and what I prefer to call democracy.

Lefebvre articulates his wider political vision in terms of what he called a “new contract of citizenship between State and citizen.”


This contract is made up of a series of rights, which include the right to the city, to services, to autogestion, and to information. Clearly this agenda looks very liberal-democratic; one might expect that a minimal State will guarantee individuals this list of rights. But this is not at all Lefebvre’s vision. Instead, he is calling for “a renewal of political life,” for a generalized political awakening among people. Lefebvre hopes this awakening will constitute a revolution, through which people decide to become active participants in managing their affairs themselves. This new tide of popular political activity, if it can sustain itself over time, will eventually make the State (and capitalism) superfluous, and they will wither away. And so Lefebvre is proposing a very strange sort of contract between citizens and State, a contract whose aim is to render both parties obsolete.

Key to understanding Lefebvre’s wider vision is this right to autogestion. In English it means “self-management,” and traditionally it referred to rank-and-file workers taking over the management of their factory from the factory’s owners and professional managers. Lefebvre advocated that kind of autogestion, but he also wanted to extend the idea, beyond workers as political subjects and beyond the factory as political arena, to a range of political subjects and political arenas. He was aiming at something people at the time called “generalized autogestion,” in which all people take up the project of collectively managing all matters of common concern.

That last idea is important, that autogestion is a project. It is not a utopia, not an ideal community at the end of history, without the State, in which people manage their affairs entirely for themselves. Autogestion is, instead, a project. It is a perpetual struggle by people to become increasingly active, to manage more and more spheres of their lives for themselves.

So of course information is critical here. Effective and enduring self-management, by whatever agents in whatever arenas, requires that people have access to and effectively use the information that is relevant to their common affairs. And so the right to information is a part of the contract that Lefebvre proposes. In our own liberal-democratic vernacular, the “right to information” would mean something like: individual citizens have the right to access information that is being kept from them for some reason, usually by the government. But if we understand the “right to information” in the context of Lefebvre’s wider project, I think we will conclude that access to information, people having information, is necessary, but it is not really the main point. What matters most, in the context of autogestion, is what people do with the information they have. Once they have access to it, do they engage with it? Do they appropriate the information—which is to say, do they make it their own—and put it into the service of the project of autogestion?

If we understand the right to information this way, with Lefebvre, I think we will tend to frame the problem of information differently than it is usually framed. The problem isn’t so much that we are being prevented from getting the information we need. There is more information available to us than we know what to do with. The problem is, more, how can we become active, appropriate the information available to us, and use that information effectively in our project to manage our affairs for ourselves.

And so I want to draw our attention away from much discussed struggles to gain access to information, like Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. While such struggles are germane to Lefebvre’s wider project, they tempt us to assume that once we have access, the struggle is won. But it isn’t. And so I want to draw our attention to the struggle to appropriate and use the information we already have access to. Are we engaging with it actively and incorporating it effectively into our political project of autogestion?

To do this, I am going to talk about something quite a bit less sexy than government secrets, or big data, or all the new forms of geographical information we use.


I am going to talk about the software that runs our personal computers. That is, I want to talk about how we use, understand, and interact with the information—the software code—that structures our everyday digital environments: window managers, system trays, power managers, and so on. These programs are, increasingly, the medium through which we engage with the world. Do we understand how they work? Are we able to? Do we care?

Everyday (Digital) Life: GUIs


The larger paper addresses three main topics, but it’s this first question of Graphical User Interfaces that I think sheds the most light on this issue of whether we use and appropriate the information on our desktops.


A graphical user interface (GUI) is a program that allows a user to issue commands to a computer without knowing the actual commands themselves. A GUI opens a window on the desktop and presents the user with buttons, drop-down lists, check boxes, and tabs with which the user can, through a series of mouse gestures and clicks, tell the GUI what changes s/he wants to make.

Let me take you through one very small example. On my machine, the monitor resolution is changed by issuing this command:

xrandr --output HDMI-0 --mode 1280x960

‘xrandr’ is the program that issues the command, the –output flag tells the computer which monitor to adjust, and the –mode flag tells the computer which resolution to set that monitor to. I can make these changes directly, by typing the command above into a terminal window and pressing enter. Or I can use a GUI. In my case that would mean using a mouse to click the “Launch!” button in the top-left corner of the desktop, which would show me a base menu of options. Clicking “settings” on that menu opens another menu, on which I would click “display.” Then the GUI opens a new window, and it makes a query to find out which monitors are available to use. It then presents me with an icon for each available monitor. I click on the icon for the monitor I want to change, then I select the resolution I want from a drop-down box that offers me all the resolutions that monitor is capable of. Then, behind the scenes, the GUI will issue the “xrandr” command above, and the resolution will change. At this point, most GUIs will even check in with the user and ask if the new resolution is acceptable, to which the user responds by clicking the “yes” button or the “no” button.

Nearly all of us use a GUI to change our monitor resolution. We rely on it. We don’t know how to change the resolution directly. We don’t know what command to issue. We don’t know how the command works; we can’t avail ourselves of the many powers it has. We don’t know how to find out the actual names of the monitors, the ones the computer uses, or what resolutions they can operate at. We need the GUI to help us. And it does. It doesn’t trouble us with the specifics: it issues the command in the background, out of our view. We are probably not even aware a command is being issued at all. The monitor just changes. The GUI takes care of it. It takes care of us.

While this example may seem almost painfully trivial, still, it matters to us whether the monitor is set to the right resolution. If it wasn’t, it would be hard to get work done. But even though it matters to us, we don’t really know how to tell the computer directly to behave the way we need it to behave. We are illiterate, most of us, unable to read and write the simple commands the computer understands and responds to. We need the GUI to read and write for us. We are helpless without it.

And so we users are alienated from the information that runs our desktops. In the paper I call this a “soft alienation,” rather than a hard one.


In hard alienation, we are being actively prevented from accessing information by some intentional means, such as a government’s claim to secrecy or a corporation’s claim to intellectual property. Soft alienation is alienation that we can overcome, often with only a little effort. To return to my xrandr example, no real barriers exist to prevent me from learning xrandr. It is installed by default on my operating system. Its manual is included, it’s only 2,100 words, and it’s comprehensive. Xrandr can be mostly learned in about a half an hour. It is a powerful command that is capable of much more than what the GUI can do. And yet most of us don’t learn xrandr. We rely on the GUI.

So in soft alienation, we are choosing to be alienated, choosing to let others produce and manage information for us. The impetus for this kind of alienation does not lie outside us, it lies inside us. The struggle against this alienation will be different from the struggles where ‘we’ confront ‘them’ because they are oppressing us. The struggle will be, instead, a struggle within, a struggle between the part of us that wants to be passive and alienated, and the part of us that wants to be active and master the information that matters to us.

How do we engage a struggle like that? I don’t think we should try to defeat our bad desires, those that want us to be passive and dependent. I think we should focus on our good desires—our desires to actively manage the information that runs our desktops—and we should try to cultivate those desires. What we need is simply to start doing the right thing, start building up our ability to access and master information. We need to read the xrandr manual, start issuing commands, and see what happens. When it works, we can try out other features of the command. When it fails, when we break something (which we will), we can figure out how to fix it, or we can turn to others who have had the same problem, and they can help us. As we build our strength in this way, by practicing, by exercising our good desires, I think we will develop a taste for it. We will come to enjoy the feeling of learning a command, issuing it directly to the computer, and seeing the changes happen. We will come to prefer that way of interacting with our machines over the alienation of the GUI. This feeling—call it pleasure, or joy, or delight—is vital. It will have to be there if we are going to succeed. It isn’t a cheap pleasure, the kind of thrill we get when we see the redesigned Apple OS for the first time.


It’s a deeper pleasure, slower burning but longer lasting, that we can settle into, that we can make a habit out of.


I have been focusing my attention on the desktop, on this little world we inhabit so intimately, and I have tried to give some account of what Lefebvre’s right to information would entail in that world. But of course this session is on “An informational right to the city.” And so what about the city, and the urban, both of which were so important to Lefebvre? In making the argument that our little desktop worlds matter, I am not saying, at all, that the city no longer matters. Both matter. However, I am willing to say that the two struggles are analogous, almost to the point of being isomorphic. In managing the information on our desktops for ourselves, we users must become active, aware, and alive; we must decide to take up the project of producing and managing this newly-vital realm for ourselves. The gist of the right to the city, as Lefebvre understood it, is the same: those who inhabit the city must take up the project of actively producing and managing urban space for themselves. They must overcome their desire to be ruled, to have urban space managed for them, and they must discover the delight of governing the city for themselves.

And of course the struggle for our desktops and the struggle for the city are only two of the many struggles that matter. When Lefebvre turned his attention toward the city and the urban inhabitant he was trying to generalize the concept of autogestion, beyond the factory and beyond the working class, to the city and the urban inhabitant.


There is no reason to think we should stop there. The school, the family, the military, the desktop: all are arenas in which we can pursue the project of autogestion. I am happy to think of these all as essentially equivalent political struggles. We shouldn’t nest or hierarchize them: a struggle for autogestion on the desktop is no more or less important than a struggle for autogestion in the city, or the home, or the school. Each moves us farther down a path toward autogestion, toward managing our own affairs for ourselves. Each teaches us the habits, skills, and attitudes we’ll need to maintain the struggle. Each trains us to know what it’s like to appropriate a sphere of experience, to take up the challenge of being the author of our own lives. Each reveals to us our own power to create, to manage, and to decide. Each helps us know what it feels like: the pleasure, or joy, or delight, of autogestion. Each is a little project—both individual and collective—to save our lives. What we need to do is not to rank them or prioritize them; we need to notice them, amass them, connect them together into a spreading project for generalized autogestion, into a spreading project for democracy.

New Book: Radical Space

Debra Benita Shaw and Maggie Humm are pleased to announce the publication of their edited volume Radical Space: Exploring politics and practice (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016). This is the second publication in the Radical Cultural Studies series edited by members of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East London. With contributions from Debra Benita Shaw; Maggie Humm; Joanna Rajkowska; Connell Vaughan; Zlatan Krajina; Victoria Hunter; Carl Lavery; Lee Hassall; Deborah Dixon; Carina Fearnley; Mark Pendleton; Brian Burke-Gaffney; Matt Fish; Angie Voela; Dimitris Papadopoulos; Rob Coley; Kat Deerfield
The book can be purchased from the RLI website at 30% discount using the code MAR1630.


Thursday, April 28th, 2016, 6.30pm

Open School East

The Rose Lipman Building

43 De Beauvoir Road

London, N1 5SQ

All welcome