Spaces of Danger

Spaces of Danger

On the same day I heard the news of Ed Soja‘s untimely death I received my copy of Spaces of Danger: culture and power in the everyday, a volume in the University of Georgia Press’s Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation series.  It’s a collection of essays edited by Heather Merrill and Lisa Hoffman: all of the contributors have been inspired by the work of another friend who I also miss very much, Allan Pred.

These twelve original essays by geographers and anthropologists offer a deep critical understanding of Allan Pred’s pathbreaking and eclectic cultural Marxist approach, with a focus on his concept of “situated ignorance”: the production and reproduction of power and inequality by regimes of truth through strategically deployed misinformation, diversions, and silences. As the essays expose the cultural and material circumstances in which situated ignorance persists, they also add a previously underexplored spatial dimension to Walter Benjamin’s idea of “moments of danger.”

The volume invokes the aftermath of the July 2011 attacks by far-right activist Anders Breivik in Norway, who ambushed a Labor Party youth gathering and bombed a government building, killing and injuring many. Breivik had publicly and forthrightly declared war against an array of liberal attitudes he saw threatening Western civilization. However, as politicians and journalists interpreted these events for mass consumption, a narrative quickly emerged that painted Breivik as a lone madman and steered the discourse away from analysis of the resurgent right-wing racisms and nationalisms in which he was immersed.

The Breivik case is merely one of the most visible recent examples, say editors Heather Merrill and Lisa Hoffman, of the unchallenged production of knowledge in the public sphere. In essays that range widely in topic and setting—for example, brownfield development in China, a Holocaust memorial in Germany, an art gallery exhibit in South Africa—this volume peels back layers of “situated practices and their associated meaning and power relations.” Spaces of Danger offers analytical and conceptual tools of a Predian approach to interrogate the taken-for-granted and make visible and legible that which is silenced.


1 Introduction: Making sense of our contemporary moment of danger


Trevor Paglen: Angelus Novus (from back)

2 Katharyne Mitchell: It’s TIME: The cultural politics of memory in the current moment of danger

3 Gunnar Olsson: Skinning the Skinning


Trevor Paglen: From Allan’s notes on Benjamin

4 Gillian Hart: Exposing the Nationa: entanglements of race, sexuality and gender in post-apartheid nationalism

5 Heather Merrill: In other for(l)ds: situated intersectionality in Italy

6 Damani Partridge: Monumental memory, moral superiority, and contemporary disconnects: racisms and noncitizen in Europe, then and now


Trevor Paglen: From Allan’s notes on Benjamin

7 Richard Walker: The city and economic geography: then and now

8 Shiloh Krupar: Situated spectacle: cross-sectional soil hermeneutics of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo


Trevor Paglen: Angelus Novus

9 Michael Watts  Insurgent Spaces: power, place and spectacle in Nigeria

10 Nancy Postero: Even in plurinational Bolivia: indignity, development and racism since Morales

11 Derek Gregory: Moving targets and violent geographies


12 Cindi Katz: A Bronx chronicle

There’s also a warm and exquisitely written Foreword by Paul Rabinow, who co-taught a graduate course with Allan at Berkeley, which ends like this:

‘Dame Fortune smiled on me when she sent Allan Pred my way.  I am forever in her debt.  The glimmers of hope in these dark times continue to emanate from those rare friends, not just their magnificent work, but the way they lived – the way they patiently, unobtrusively, daringly and thoughtfully taught us how to live.’

The stunning cover image, Travelers, is by Allan’s hyper-talented daughter Michele: it shows scissors confiscated at US airports and now suspended under a vast umbrella.  Spaces of Danger indeed.

Moving targets

I’ve added a draft of a new essay, ‘Moving targets and violent geographies’, under the DOWNLOADS tab.  It’s a general essay on drones, summarising both their genealogies and geographies, and I would welcome any comments, preferably by e-mail so they don’t get lost in the spam nets: again, this is a draft, so please treat it as such.  I wrote it for a volume of essays in honour of the work of my great friend Allan Pred, though I’ll incorporate a different version in The everywhere war.  This raw draft doesn’t feature any images (despite the references to Figure 1, etc): I’m still trying decide what to include.

You’ll see that it draws on a number of posts on the blog – a large number, now I’ve realised just how how many drone sightings there have been on! – as well as recent presentations.  I’ve noted before that I find presentations a useful way to prepare for an essay; I treat these visuals as storyboards and, once the essay has been drafted, it’s time to move on to other presentations: reading to an audience from a finalised script seems a waste of time to me.  But I’ve also found those scattered posts immensely helpful too, and I’ve been surprised at the consistent themes that emerged from them once I started to put them together.  This is more than cut-and-paste (or at least I hope so), and there are new arguments in the essay.  Let me know what you think.


Drones are moving targets in all sorts of ways – not only because, as I explain in the essay, they are currently unable to operate in contested  A2/AD (‘anti-access/area denial’) environments, and not even because Boeing has recently converted some of its mothballed F-16 fighter aircraft into target drones (see the image above; there’s a long history of target drones, of course) – but also because advanced militaries are re-evaluating their role and capabilities.

RPA VectorThe Pentagon issued its first integrated ‘UAS roadmap‘ in 2005, a review of all unmanned systems in 2007 and an update in 2011.  The Air Force produced its own ‘UAS Flight Plan‘ in 2009 (see the briefing slides here) and has promised its new ‘RPA [Remotely Piloted Aircraft] Vector’ report in the very near future.

It’s keenly awaited because there are indications that the Air Force is re-thinking its infatuation with Predators and Reapers. The commander of Air Combat Combat, General Mike Hostage, has made it plain that they are ‘useless in a contested environment‘ and so are unlikely to have a prominent place in Obama’s ‘pivot’ to Asia/Pacific.

While you are waiting, you can get a taste of what is to come from this June 2013 briefing by Jeffrey Eggers.