Letter from Zeboim 1

The modern American university does not appear to best advantage when viewed from the Right. Viewed from the Left, it appears as a glistening City on a Hill. From the Right, it appears as one of the seedier Cities of the Plain. If not Sodom itself, perhaps Zeboim.

Zeboim came in for rough treatment in Genesis, but recovered and was back in business by the time of 1 Samuel. In fact, I find my ancestors hard at work in Zeboim, for it was to that city that the Israelites took themselves when they needed to sharpen an ax or a mattock, as in their own country “there was no Smith to be found” (1 Samuel 13: 19-20).

This is a letter from Zeboim, where this Smith has been hammering young scholars on the anvil of knowledge for twenty-five years. The sign outside my shop says I am a geographer, but as you are about to see, this advertisement tells you less than you may imagine, since a man who tells you he is a geographer doesn’t tell you much at all.

Consider the items that follow. They are précises of “calls for papers” (CFPs) that I recently received from geographers in my sub-specialty (cultural-historical geography). These geographers are assembling “sessions” of papers to be read at the big geography shindig in San Francisco next spring, and they sent these CFPs to various list-serves in order to round up participants. My précises are intended to highlight the ludicrous, but they are not misleading and all the titles and quotes are real. I have not cherry-picked weird CFPs.

Welcome to Zeboim!

CFP: Situating diasporic knowledges

The “pluriverse” is, as they say, a thing. It seems that geographers have been working like Che Guevara to “decolonize the academy,” through the “valorization of indigenous epistemologies,” but have yet to undertake “research analyzing and endorsing . . . explicitly diasporic traditions.” This is crazy, since everyone knows that “the pluriverse of diverse and interactive epistemologies is . . . more-than-indigenous and benefits from diasporic as well as indigenous traditions and perspectives.”   What this means is that Voodoo is no less reliable in south Florida than it is in Haiti.

CFP: Wither the green economy and its alternatives? Changing rural hopes, desires and expectations in the extractive frontiers of Southeast Asia

It seems the apparatchiks of the “global green economy” have run into a spot of bother. All of their “new imaginings, expectations, and visions” have bogged down in “processes of abstraction,” and their “utopian (‘triple-win’) framings of the green economy grow ever distant from . . . realities.” [“Triple-win” means more green, more just, and more productive, all at the same time.] Naturally, the problem is wreckers who have bungled “the politics of translation and enrolment in green governance,” not to mention the “politics of enrolment in ever-greening ‘economies of expectation’.” In other words, few people sign up for the program and most of those quit. What is needed is more nuanced “discursive ‘re-scaling’ and territorialization associated with the roll out of green projects,” and also critical scrutiny of “the moments of contestation, contradiction, and friction as competing priorities, perspectives and expectations come into contact.”

CFP: Accessing public space: Exploring diverse theoretical approaches and methodologies

You may have thought that public space consisted primarily of things like parks and roads, and that these were used primarily for things like picnics and moving around. Think again. “Scholarship on public space is growing and diversifying—not least through renewed attention to political movements appropriating physical public spaces.” Thanks to this scholarship, there are now “public space epistemologies,” and they are “theoretically and pragmatically important.” But what is really important is “critical reflection” on these “public space epistemologies.” Critics criticize from “feminist, anti-racist, decolonial, new materialist, political economic, ecological or legal-institutional” angles. Keep that in mind the next time you venture into a park!

CFP: Legacies of Black Feminisms

Here’s something new. A call for papers that includes a long list of “suggested readings.” These folks are going to discuss the “legacies, trajectories, and possibilities of Black feminist intellectual and political traditions.” They are not deterred by the fact that there are no traditions of this sort in geography.   But geography is freighted with vile “white-dominated feminist projects” that are in virtual lockstep with “U.S. imperialism abroad, the prison-industrial complex domestically and other racialized projects.” Not everyone knows that NOW is a front for the KKK, but this will be exposed by “a multivalent, multiscalar resurgence of interest in Women of Color and transnational feminisms.” The key is to grasp “intersectional systems of oppression” (which means getting screwed in more ways than one), and to fight back with “liberatory praxis and theory.”

CFP: “The ‘Other’ Side of the Bay: Contested Geographies of Oakland”

Oakland, California, can’t get no respect. In “the representational geography and power geometry of the urban system” it has appeared “as subaltern, subcultural, and ‘pathological’” because of its “highly racialized ‘image problem’.” Recent redevelopment has begun to change this “geographical imaginary,” but only at the cost of “racialized dispossession” and “racialized state violence.” Naturally, this “conjunctural moment” is a great opportunity for “academics, artists, activists, and others” to help “performatively enact this transformation in its many determinations.”

CFP: Fulfilling The Promise of Anarchist Geographies

Were you aware of the “re-emergence of anarchist perspectives?” (I hadn’t noticed their disappearance.) In any case, this is “one of the most significant new developments in critical geography over the last few years” and it “promises to transform the intellectual landscape of geography as we know it.” This renaissance has so far “been characterized by a heavy focus on theory,” but the time has come to “explore critically . . . what these theoretical and conceptual innovations mean for academic praxis.” They particularly wish to see more anarchism in the classroom and at professional meetings, so they welcome “presentations in non-traditional and participatory formats.”

CFP: The Mont Pelerin Plague? Revisiting and Rethinking Neoliberalism

They’ve begun to notice that promiscuous use of the word “neoliberalism” has rendered it almost meaningless. It has been “used to theorize everything,” “is conceptualized in various ways,” and might even be mistaken for “a radical political slogan.” Indeed, the intellectual market is staggering under “a glut of concepts, theories, and analyses” that, while “fruitful,” runs the risk of “leaving us more confused than enlightened.” Fortunately, to the rescue comes a “body of literature . . . that is critical of current conceptions and understandings of neoliberalism,” and that promises to “(re)conceptualize neoliberalism.”

CFP: Geography and Literature

This one hits close to home, since I have a long-standing interest in “literary studies and geography,” but I have never perpetrated a “geographical articulations of the text” or “made use of literary texts and devices to understand the social and spatial configurations of power.” These are no longer “unrealized possibilities,” however, because “literary geography” is no longer “the road ‘less traveled by’ by critical geographers.” Critical geographers are engaged in “destabilizing texts,” aiming at “development and refinement of geographic categories of thought such as place, space, nature, and territory.”

CFP: Science Fiction Geographies

You may not known it, but “geographies of science fiction is becoming an established part of the geographic discipline.” Indeed, “geographers cannot dismiss the significant potential in studying” science fiction, since it explores “outer space as an alternative representation of space” and shines a light on the “cultural politics of alien invaders.” Science fiction allows geographers to finally get serious about “commentary on themes of race, gender, and social justice,” and also gives them an opportunity to “dress up to resemble a superhero.”

CFP: “California, I’ll Be Knocking on the Golden Door”: Exploring the Geographical Aspects of the Grateful Dead

Weighing in just shy of 1,000 words, this call for panel participants might count as a publication. The panel will discuss “the music, spirit, and legacy of the Grateful Dead,” and thereby advance “Deadhead geography.” Anyone who listens to this band will discover “a plethora of geographic themes,” including insights into “transportation geography,” all “deeply rooted in the ideals of the late-1960s Haight-Ashbury” and its “drug-inspired environment of experimentation.”

CFP: Geopolitical representation, culture, and territoriality

Take a seat before assimilating this sentence. “Linkages between geopolitical representations, culture, and territoriality are powerful and complex entities that are manifested across a variety of socio-spatial scales.” Not only are they “powerful and complex,” but “these forces and assemblages” are also “dramatic and dynamic elements” that “hold great power and meaning” and indeed frequently “result in contested perceptions of place and belonging.” One good place to observe all of this is at “folklore festivals.”

CFP: Geographies of Media

Geographies of media studies “geographical implications—social, political, cultural, and economic—that are often contained within the spaces and places of different forms of media.” They also study implications of media that “extend beyond their original form” and merge with “a broader industrial, cultural, and political complex,” or with “our daily lived experiences, from our cities to streets to living rooms to imaginations.” They study anything they feel like studying.

CFP: Race and the Agrarian Question

This session is inspired by Kark Kautsky’s Agrarian Question (1899). This work of orthodox Marxism “is as germinal [sic] in the 21st century as when it was first published”—provided it is “continually reframed and re-examined in new historical and geographical conjunctures.” Among these new conjunctures, none is more important than the “fundamentally racialized nature of capitalism” and the examination of agriculture in the “context of intersectional racial politics.” Key concepts will be “land grabs,” “whiteness,” “reparations and racial justice,” “dispossession as a racial project,” and “farming as anti-racist praxis.”

CFP: Desiring Politics and the Politics of Desire

Did you know that, “a great deal of important work on affect has emerged from cultural geography.” Psychologists have been pretty much awed into silence. Unlike these geographers, they never considered the “political stakes,” which include “dreaming about and desiring other forms of collectivity.” Weird dreams. And what’s weirder is that these guys claim to be Freudians. Sort of. They take “seriously the value of theoretical promiscuity,” and therefore “are not interested in privileging any single formulation of desire over and above another,” or in which theory “gets desire ‘right.’” They do, of course, recognize that “racialized and classed pedagogies of aesthetics and hygiene . . . are core to (neo)colonial modernities .”

CFP: Uncertain futures and everyday hedging

Inspired by the “prophetic novel,” The Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko, this “set of session” will explore the ways in which “differently situated actors respond to a future they imagine suffused with violence and looming with social, environmental, spiritual and economic catastrophe.” Because of “technological innovations” such as “’big data’,” knowledge “expands logarithmically,” but “whole ‘regions of experience’ are left out,” most notably “the gut feeling, modeling, faith, financialization.” Geographers need to know the role of such attempts to know the “unknowable “ in “anticipating and responding to risk.”

14 thoughts on “Letter from Zeboim 1

  1. Pingback: Letter From Zeboim 1 | Neoreactive

  2. … including insights into “transportation geography,”


    is as germinal [sic] in the 21st century as when it was first published

    You say “sic”, but how can you tell? I mean, it seems weird that something could be equally germinal in 2015 and 1899, but that could very well be what the author is saying.

    Seriously, why do people write this way? When did this begin?

    Is it just to differentiate the academic from the non-academic?
    Is it too annoy the non-academic philistine to inculcate a sense of superiority in the academic?
    Is it merely to disguise what are plainly political assertions as if they were the *result* of some kind of inquiry or study?
    Is it so everybody can publish *something* without actually having to contribute anything new?

    What goes on inside the head of these writers as they are manipulating the symbols and systems of [culturally meaningful] objects that signify imaginal referents in highly-racialized tempio-spacial thoughtspace?

    • The norms of any group can appear pretty weird from the outside, and academic lingo is in someways like the huge headdresses of primitive tribesmen. When academics mix continental philosophy and leftist politics, though, they take their banana oil to a whole new level.

  3. Pingback: Letter From Zeboim 1 | Reaction Times

  4. I believe that enrollments in English programs have declined as this sort of thing has become hegemonic. How’s enrollment in geography doing these days?

    • You might say geography has a diversified portfolio, with substantial investments in natural science and computer applications, so this sort of thing can’t burn down the house. Enrollments were declining through the 1970s and 80s, but have been healthy in recent decades. This sort of thing is big at the conferences, but people have enough sense to keep it out of the textbooks.

  5. Doing work on the geography of science fiction looks great. It looks great in the same way that playing computer games all day or eating nothing but brownies looks great.

  6. Yes, the “plethora of geographic themes” is why I grok The Grateful Dead! By the way – is grokking PC or un-PC? Maybe we should organize a conference session to discuss the issue.

    • “Grok” is a Heinleinian neologism, so it’s radically un-PC. It’s also a useful term, I think. And while Heinlein was not much of a tradent, I think the act of grokking is quite traditional, as being the act of grasping, comprehending and embracing the Real.

      • My entire pedagogy is a passionate sustained homiletic appeal to get my students to grok something – anything!

      • Three months into an Intro Philosophy course, I had a student tell me that now she finally got it: I wasn’t telling her what to think; I was just trying to get her to think. I still tear up.

  7. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/10/25) | The Reactivity Place


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