About Derek Gregory

I'm Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Trauma geographies, woundscapes and the clinic

I returned from the RGS/IBG Conference in Cardiff to the start of term (which explains and I hope excuses my silence: I’ve updated my two course outlines for this term, and you can find them under the TEACHING Tab if you are interested; if you have any comments or suggestions I’d be happy to have them).

My next order of business is to turn my Antipode Lecture on “Trauma Geographies” into a text (the video will be online soon, I hope); I’ve already started on the translation, helped by questions and feedback from the presentation, and I’ll post the draft when it’s ready.

The argument moves from medical care and casualty evacuation in Belgium and France, 1914-1918 through Afghanistan 2001-2018 to Syria 2011-2018, and in each case I address both combatants and civilians.  Much of this trades on (and develops) posts that will be familiar to regular readers – and if you’re not the GUIDE tab ought to help direct you to the most relevant ones – but I’ve also returned to my ideas about corpography and used them to flesh out (sic) the concept of a ‘woundscape‘.  I decided to that because one of the themes of the conference was landscape, and the idea of a woundscape seemed to take that debate in a fruitful new direction.  I first encountered it in Jennifer Terry‘s brilliant Attachments to War, and she in turn found it in the work of Gregory Whitehead (particularly Display Wounds).

I’m drawn to the way in which both authors/performers try to coax wounds to speak, to read their violent ruptures of the body, and to transcend the typically narrowly bio-medical discourse that frames them.  At the same time, I don’t want to ignore that scientific framing, not least because it is profoundly performative and has such vital consequences (both physical and affective), so in my rendering a ‘woundscape’ is constituted through the explosive intersection of the military gaze (‘the target’) and the medical gaze (the injured body) but immediately spirals beyond those visual registers – and indeed beyond visuality – to include a range of other senses and sensibilities. A woundscape thus includes the bio-physical, cognitive and affective landscapes in which casualties are created, moved and treated.  The affective envelope that surrounds and invades the injured body is a constant concern; this extends beyond the casualty to a host of other actors – as Omar Dewachi shrewdly observes, when wounds travel they ‘enter new social worlds and multiple histories of violence’ – but I I focus on physical injury (rather than PTSD) because so many accounts of later modern war have represented it as what James Der Derian dubbed ‘virtuous’ war whose seeming remoteness is rendered as at once increasingly virtual, fought on and through screens and algorithms, and at the limit radically, absurdly disembodied. Against this, I’m trying to respond to John Keegan’s dismayed observation that the wounded – he included the dead too – ‘apparently dematerialize as soon as they are struck down…’

So here are the slides from my presentation that summarise my interim propositions about woundscapes, drawn from the three case studies; I’ll be revising and elaborating them as I proceed, but I hope this might start a conversation:

Finally, Omar’s wonderful essay that I cited earlier appeared in MATMedicine, Anthropology, Theory – and I would be remiss not to draw attention to its most recent issue.  The editorial on ‘Clinic and Crisis‘ by Eileen Moyer and Vinh-Kim Nguyen sends me back to the other essay I’m currently trying to finish, on “The Death of the Clinic“, which plainly intersects with ‘Trauma Geographies’:

A common thread runs through the articles of this issue of MAT: the conjoining of clinic and crisis. Here we refer, in the manner of Foucault (1963) to the clinic as both an epistemology (a way of knowing) as well as a material space where the ill seek care. Crises are moments of rupture, where the surface of everyday life splinters to reveal what lies underneath and new dangers can appear; they are also turning points where futures can be grasped and foretold. Moments of social crisis manifest in bodies, and therefore in the clinic. Das’s notion of ‘critical events’, as discussed in Affliction: Health, Disease, and Poverty and also taken up in MAT’s September 2017 issue, furnishes perhaps the most thorough consideration of crisis. As she and others have pointed out, crisis is an everyday reality for many who live in conditions of precarity and existential instability. More generally, the current geopolitical climate and the growing urgency of climate change contribute to the sense of crisis. The clinic is symptomatic of crisis, a place where a state of emergency becomes finally visible.

More soon – and I haven’t forgotten that I need to return to my series of posts on Ghouta and, in particular, to address the issue of medical care and casualty evacuation (or lack of it) there too.

Cities Lost & Remade

An editorial from Steve Niva, the new editor of the indispensable Middle East Report introduing the new issue:

The merciless killing by Israeli snipers of over 100 mostly unarmed Palestinians approaching the militarized fence around the Gaza Strip in May of 2018 was significant not simply for what it says about Israel’s callous disregard for Palestinian human rights. Israel’s misleading attempt to legitimate its shoot-to-kill policy in terms of a right to defend its sovereign borders belies the fact that its self-proclaimed “border” around Gaza is simply the outer boundary of an open-air prison of barbed wire fences, fortified gates and no-go zones over which Israel retains full control as an occupying power. The Palestinians being killed at the fence area are not hostile invaders but rather displaced and stateless peoples protesting against the cage Israel has built to keep them both boxed in and out.

Israel’s violence against displaced and stateless Palestinians in Gaza is significant more broadly as a dark exemplar of an unfolding global future: the proliferation of militarized walls, fences, no-go areas and increasingly lethal actions that police the space between the “green zones” of wealth and privilege and the “red zones” of the poor, excluded and stateless around the world. Israel’s militarized population management systems, border security technologies and anti-civilian weapons that are “battle tested” against Palestinians and then sold on the global market have found willing buyers and emulators among those seeking to contain, deter or eliminate unwanted populations. Increasingly militarized systems whether “made in Israel” or not, can be found along the US-Mexico border, Europe’s southern facing border zones, India’s border zone around Bangladesh, as well as the zones outside of gated communities in various global locations.

The articles in this issue of Middle East Report take us beyond these fortified walls and zones to illuminate some of the sources of displacement, dispossession and loss found throughout urban areas in the contemporary Middle East, which often produce the very population outflows that militarized border zones seek to contain. In our age of “planetary urbanization” many cities have become battlegrounds where insurgents seek asymmetrical advantage against opponents who increasingly target cities as if civilians no longer exist—the way Israel labels the entire urban fabric of Gazan society a “terrorist infrastructure” or the urban destruction campaigns undertaken by Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US against ISIS. At the same time, global capitalist deregulation and privatization has given rise to what global sociologist Saskia Sassen terms “predatory formations” of investors, states and economic elites that target cities for speculative profit and nepotistic rewards, emptying them of their poor or rebellious inhabitants, whether in Amman, Istanbul or Morocco. Some urban inhabitants are forced to flee while others resist, remain and keep alive more just visions of their collective urban past and future whether in Gezi Park, Mosul or elsewhere.

 

Contents:

The Urbanization of Power and the Struggle for the City Deen Sharp

Globalized Authoritarianism and the New Moroccan City Koenraad Bogaert

“The Dubai of…” Yasser Elsheshtawy

Amman Eliana Abu-Hamdi

Alexandria, City of Dispossession Youssef El Chazli

The Destructive Dreams of AKP Urbanism Ayse Çavdar

Abadan Kaveh Ehsani and Rasmus Christian Elling

Generational Dislocations Joanne Randa Nucho

Jerusalem’s Colonial Landscapes of Loss Thomas Abowd

“Mosul Will Never Be the Same” Omar Mohammed

Sur Serra Hakyema

The Military Present

I’m later to this than I should be, but over at the American Anthropologist there is a very interesting series of four podcasts conducted by Emily Sogn.and Vasiliki Touhouliotis on what they call ‘the military present’:

In the first episode, we spoke to Joe Masco (here) about the historical formation of an affective politics that creates an ethos of continuous, yet increasingly incoherent militarization justifying itself as a response to a monopoly of perceived threats. Next, we spoke to Madiha Tahir (here) about the ways in which new weapons technologies, particularly drones, have reshaped social landscapes in places like the Waziristan region of Pakistan where threats both in the air and on the ground have become an ever present fact of everyday life….

In our [third] episode we spoke with was Wazhmah Osman (here) about the embodied effects of nearly four decades of continuous war in Afghanistan. we talked about how the deployment of new military strategies and the use of new supposedly more precise weapons obscures the deep yet everyday cumulative damage that is caused by ongoing war. [The interview focuses on the US deployment of the  the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) in Afghanistan in April of 2017].

And in the final episode – which is how I stumbled upon the series, as I’m in the final stages of prepping my Antipode lecture on “Trauma Geographies” – they talk with my good friend Omar Dewachi (here)

about war as a form of governance asking how war orders and creates the terms by which different forms of injury caused by war can be recognized and acted upon. We were prompted to frame a conversation around this topic as a response to what we see as a troubling absence of public discussion of the deaths and illnesses that are caused by war, but which get obscured as such by the language of by products, secondary effects, or collateral damage.

Unless I’ve missed something, the conversation with Omar is the only one of the series to have a transcript, but you can listen to all of them online.

Other Wars Imagined

In early October I’m giving a keynote at a conference in Leipzig on Imaginations and Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition.  There’s an interesting interview with the organiser Steffi Marung here, and you can find the full programme (in English) and more details here.

I’ve been trying to work out what I might do, and this is what I’ve come up with; it’s still a draft, and the presentation is very much in development, so I’d welcome any comments or suggestions.  I see this as part of a comprehensive re-working of my essay on “The everywhere war” – which desperately needs it (it was written to order and in very short order).

Other Wars Imagined: visuality, spatiality and corpography

When Samuel Hynes wrote his classic account of A War Imagined he identified two ways in which the First World War transformed English (and by implication European) culture. First the emergence of a new visual field disclosed military violence in selective but none the less shocking ways: the half-tone block allowed photographs to be printed in newspapers, and cinema provided an even more vivid rendering of industrialised violence. Second the new dislocation of time and space was epitomised in what Hynes called ‘the death of landscape’ – the ‘annihilation of Nature’ and the monstrous appearance of ‘anti-landscape’ – and the substitution of abstract, ‘de-rationalized and de-familiarized’ spaces of pulverized geometries. This presentation explores the implications of Hynes’s views for the imaginative geographies of later modern war. Less concerned with representation – with images as mirrors of military violence – I focus on performative effects and, in the company of Judith Butler, consider the ways in which imaginative geographies enter into the very conduct of war. The visual technologies are different, so I pay close attention to the digital production of targets and to counter-geographies that fill these spaces with ordinary men, women and children. The formation of this counter-public sphere is contested – propaganda has never been more aggressive in its deformations – and so I also examine the implications of a ‘post-truth regime’ for critical thought and action. But the spaces of military and paramilitary violence are different too – no longer abstract and linear – and I suggest some of the ways in which an embodied corpography can subvert the cartographic imaginaries of previous modern wars. This critical manoeuvre also has vital implications for international humanitarian law and the constitution of war zones as what, not following Giorgio Agamben, I treat as spaces of exception. Throughout I draw on examples from my research on Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria.

If you don’t know Hynes’ book, first published in 1990 – it helped me think through some of the ideas I sketched in “The natures of war” – here is a review by P.N. Furbank from the LRB.

‘Sweet target, sweet child’

My keynote (‘Sweet target, sweet child: Aerial violence and the imaginaries of remote warfare’) at the conference on Drone Imaginaries and Society at the University of Southern Denmark in June is now available online here.

In February 2010 a US air strike on three vehicles in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan in support of US and allied ground forces caused multiple civilian casualties. The attack was the direct result of surveillancecarried out by a Predator drone, and a US Army investigation into the incident criticised the flightcrew for persistently misinterpreting the full-motion video feeds from the remotely operated aircraft.This has become the signature strike for critics of remote warfare, yet they have all relied solely on a transcript of communications between US Special Forces in the vicinity, the drone crew at Creech AirForce Base in Nevada, and the helicopter pilots who executed the strike. But an examination of the interviews carried out by the investigation team reveals a more complicated – and in some respects even more disturbing – picture. This presentation uses those transcripts to brings other actors into the frame, pursues the narrative beyond the strike itself, and raises a series of questions about civilian casualties. During the post-strike examination of the site the casualties were rendered as (still) suspicious bodies and, as they were evacuated to military hospitals, as inventories of injuries. Drawing on Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary film ”National Bird” I also track the dead as they are returned to their villages and the survivors as they struggle with rehabilitation: both provide vivid illustrations of the embodied nature of nominally remote warfare and of the violent bioconvergence that lies on the otherside of the screen.

Death machines

New from Elke Schwarz, Death machines: the ethics of violent technologies (Manchester UP):

As innovations in military technologies race toward ever-greater levels of automation and autonomy, debates over the ethics of violent technologies tread water. Death Machines reframes these debates, arguing that the way we conceive of the ethics of contemporary warfare is itself imbued with a set of bio-technological rationalities that work as limits. The task for critical thought must therefore be to unpack, engage, and challenge these limits. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, the book offers a close reading of the technology-biopolitics-complex that informs and produces contemporary subjectivities, highlighting the perilous implications this has for how we think about the ethics of political violence, both now and in the future.

Contents:

Introduction: The conditioned human
1. Biopolitics and the technological subject
2. Biopolitical technologies in Arendt and Foucault
3. Anti-political (post)modernity
4. Procedural violence
5. Ethics as technics
6. All hail our robot overlords
7. Prescription drones
Conclusion: For an ethics beyond technics

In Permanent Crisis?

News of the next International Conference of Critical Geography: In Permanent Crisis?  Uneven development, everywhere war and radical praxis:

The 8th ICCG will be hosted from the 19th to the 23d of April 2019, in Athens, Greece, one of many loci of the ongoing and multiplying crises of the neoliberal 21st century, including the “debt crisis,” the “neo-fascist crisis”, the “refugee crisis,” and a place that could be regarded as a kind of “laboratory” for observing how uneven development and everywhere war articulate different actors, scales and operations.

The 8th ICCG in Athens seeks to elaborate on the structural relations, materialities and cultures of uneven development and everywhere war, which bring about the condition of permanent crisis we find ourselves in the world over. Building on the previous ICCG 2015 conference, we regard “permanent crisis” as a regime that needs to be radically challenged in both political and theoretical terms, in our everyday lives as well as in the host of global, national and local institutions that reproduce it. We therefore want to invoke again the notion of praxis as the realisation of collective thinking and acting that is required in order to remake, to change the world.

Conference sub-themes:

1. Austerity Urbanism and Social Reproduction

2. War, Security, Humanitarianism

3. Urban Conflicts

4. Migration and global mobility

5. Rise of neo-fascism, nationalism and authoritarianism

6. New geographies of colonialism

7. Socioenvironmental conflicts

8. Geographies of gender and sexuality

Several of these intersect with the themes I cover here, but this is the expanded version of (2) – the most immediately relevant – and you can find details of the others here.

Cities turned into battlefields, massive slaughter of civilians, military technologies in the service of architecture and spatial planning, army forces performing police operations and police forces in military raids, militarization of and killings at the borders, ‘fourth-generation’ wars and war games, war technologies and war infrastructure turned into consumer goods: the infiltration of ‘ordinary’ social life by war seems today to be more prominent than ever. The sad convergence between war and peace becomes all the more evident, for example in the systematization of the humanitarian treatment of war victims, and in the continuing securitization of issues as diverse as migration, environmental risks and radical politics. From this perspective, it is important to theorize not only the social and geographic implications of this or that war but also everywhere war (a term borrowed from Derek Gregory) as a destructive and at the same time constitutive force for people, places and cities. On the other hand, since ‘everywhere is always somewhere’, specific warscapes as well as grey zones of war uncertainty, their violence, their terror and their normalization need to be closely examined. We welcome contributions that would investigate the spatiality of contemporary warfare and the uneven geographic implications of contemporary war(s) at various scales from the global to the local.

Key dates:

  • 30 September 2018: Abstracts submission Deadline
  • 30 November 2018: Notification of acceptance Deadline
  • 01 December 2018: Registration opens
  • 31 January 2019: Registration deadline

(I’ve taken the image that heads this post from Ai Weiwei‘s Law of the Journey, conceived while he was undertaking research on refugee camps in Lesbos: see here).