Call for papers, workshop: Spatialising the social sciences in post-colonial contexts (Oxford, May 2017)

During the last few weeks with DPhil Candidate Sophie Chamas from the University of Oxford we have been putting together a small call for papers for a workshop both of us felt could be of some interest. This is the result of what we have come up with. Feel free to diffuse, and respond to it.

UPDATE 02/11/2017: Many people have contacted us back to say they were interested by the event but couldn’t find the time on such short notice. We have moved back the deadline to the 15th of March 2017 and the event will take place in the second week of May 2017.

Abū Ḥafs Zayn al-Dīn ʻUmar ibn al-Muẓaffar Ibn al-Wardī, "Atlas of the World"

Abū Ḥafs Zayn al-Dīn ʻUmar ibn al-Muẓaffar Ibn al-Wardī, “Atlas of the World”

Workshop: Spatialising the social sciences in post-colonial contexts (November 2016)

Following the arguments made by a number of authors working within the structuralist paradigm in the social sciences and humanities, the awareness that geography matters (Massey and al., 1984) has influenced these disciplines toward what has come to be accepted as a spatial turn. This expression refers to the end of the relative disinterest the social sciences traditionally displayed towards the subject of space as compared to time (Soja, 1989), as well as critiques of the main trends in geography, especially following the positivist proposals made for the discipline during the second half of the 1950s (Schaefer, 1953; Bunge, 1962), which isolated it and its spatial fix. The critique of this positivist epistemological position, relying, among other things, on works from critical theory (Lefebvre, 1967, 1974), social movement studies (Castells, 1983; Tilly, 2003), and political geography (Harvey, 1973), has precipitated within geography an increased attentiveness to other disciplines, and within other disciplines a growing interest in geography.

The idea that space is a social construct that has to be examined in relation to the rest of the social world later led to a consideration of the influence the spatial has on the social. The understanding of space as a mere container giving shape to broader phenomena was gradually dismissed. While in the British context, the development of critical theory and a revival of Marxist analysis and, later on, an interest in postmodern studies, was at the core of this process, in the French-speaking academic world, a complementary debate took shape using similar sources, but organised along different lines.

The integration of critical geography and the development of Lefebvre‟s arguments resulted in an interest in the spatial and, more specifically, an attentiveness to phenomena of exclusion. This led to the emergence of many studies on urban exclusion and the production and reproduction of space. Notably, this movement has more directly tackled the debate on the relationship between space and society, proposing a radical answer to it by questioning the validity of separating the two terms at all (Lévy, 1994; Séchet and Veschambre (eds.), 2006). And, the development of a pragmatic or contextual turn in the social sciences has led to a particular focus on the localisation of social phenomena, with references to space and its specific structuration (Briquet and Sawicki, 1989; Trom, 1999; Cefaï and Lafaye, 2001; Hmed, 2008). In summary, these developments seem to indicate that, as proposed by Thomas Gieryn (2000), space has found a place in sociology.

This workshop aims to create a platform for debate between scholars engaged in the spatialisation of the social sciences and humanities in post-colonial contexts. If in each case the necessity to enquire more systematically into spatially-influenced questions has been highlighted, the importance of dialogue across approaches has been neglected. The debates unfolding in geography, the social sciences and humanities have yet to cross over into one another‟s disciplinary and linguistic territory, limiting these fields‟ and contexts‟ ability to learn from one another‟s critical approaches to space.

Contributions to the on-going debate on space have benefited from and had a particular impact on the study of societies in post-colonial contexts. The argument made by James Scott on the locality of categories in his critique of the notion of alienation is one example (Scott, 1985). More recently, studies have shown the importance of taking space into account when working on forms of popular resistance and political transformation (Bayat, 1997, 2010; Gunning and Zvi Baron, 2012; Combes, Garibay, and Goirand (eds.), 2015; Oslender, 2016); on lived experiences at urban and social margins (Doraï, 2005; Doraï and Puig, 2012; Dias, 2013); on the effects of transformations in governmental practices at the transnational level, and so forth. The specificity of some post-colonial approaches leaves room for considering the importance of the question of scale and the reference to an international order of power. This is especially relevant when analysing the way actors construct strategies and discourses based on a number of local knowledges and representations, which are often reduced to the order of the “traditional” without being investigated as critical reinventions, as Hobsbawm and Ranger explain (1983).

The aim of this workshop will be to tackle these questions and provide a cross-language and cross-discipline platform of exchange for scholars working at the intersection between the social sciences, humanities and geography, or broadly participating in the “spatial turn” in the study of the post-colonial world. As Edward Soja (2011) has observed, postcolonial studies and human geography have always enjoyed an intimate entanglement. The spatial turn, however, as he has also pointed out, has provoked new concerns within and in relation to postcolonial scholarship. In postcolonial countries, the struggle over territory – physical, epistemological, cultural, corporeal and others – meant that scholars from or working on such contexts were paying attention to space and place long before the spatial turn (Noyes, 1992; Chambers & Curti, 1996; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 1994; Bhabha, 1994; Bhabha, 1990). How, nonetheless, has the increased attention to and production of critical spatial perspectives throughout the humanities and social sciences affected the study of space in the postcolonial world? As Soja writes, has it allowed for critical moves away from binaries like colonizer/colonized, East/West, North/South, capitalism/socialism? What other, non-dichotomous ways of thinking and narrating the postcolonial condition does the spatial turn enable? These are some of the questions we hope to explore in this workshop.

Although theoretical work is welcome, priority will be given to papers relying on some level of empirical investigation, including that which utilizes archives, the study of textual documents, or any other form of first-hand investigation. The topics the organisers propose to investigate are the following, and the propositions will cover one or several of them, according to the presenters‟ interests and topics of investigation:

  • Converging epistemologies, the theoretical stakes of the spatial turn
  • Local, national, global… apprehending scales
  • Locale as unit/subject of analysis
  • Resistance and mobilisation in/for space and place
  • Marginalisation, domination and resistance in and through the city
  • Autochthony: local identity as a resource
  • Material, symbolic, and political landscapes
  • Spatial injustice and environmental suffering
  • The production of discourse in public space
  • Alter-political practices in the public realm
  • The spatial dimensions of race, class and gender
  • Neoliberalism and the privatization of the public
  • Epistemological mobility and the shaping of postcolonial subjectivity
  • De-territorialization/Re-territorialization

Dates and Deadlines:
The seminar will take place over two days during the second week of May 2017. It will be held at Oxford (University of Oxford). Precise dates and locations will follow the call for proposals.
Abstracts should not exceed 500 words and should be sent to both of the organisers at and, before the 15th of March 2017. Participants will be notified about the status of their submissions by the end of the first week of April 2016.

Bayat Asef, Street Politics: poor people’s movements in Iran, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997
Bayat Asef, Life as politics: how ordinary people change the Middle East, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010
Ashcroft Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back, London: Routledge, 1989.
Bhabha Homi, “Narrating the Nation”, Nation and Narration (Homi Bhabha ed.), London: Routledge, 1990
Bhabha Homi, The Location of Culture, London: Routledge, 1994
Bunge William, Theoretical Geography, Lund: Gleerup, 1962
Briquet Jean-Louis and Sawicki Frédéric, “L‟analyse localisée du politique”, Politix, Vol 2, No 7, 1989
Castells Manuel, The city and the grassroots, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983
Cefaï Daniel and Lafaye Claudette, “Lieux et moments d‟une mobilisation collective – Le cas d‟une association de quartier”, in Cefaï, Daniel and Trom Danny (eds.), Les formes de l’action collective, Mobilisations dans des arènes publiques, Paris: Editions de l‟EHESS, 2001
Chambers Iain and Curti Lidia, The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons, London: Routledge, 1996
Dias Amanda S, Aux marges de la ville et de l’Etat, Camps palestiniens au Liban et favelas cariocas, Paris; Beirut: Karthala – Ifpo, 2013
Doraï Mohamed Kamel, Les réfugiés palestiniens du Liban, une géographie de l’exil, Paris: CNRS Editions, 2006
Doraï Mohamed Kamel and Puig Nicolas, L’urbanité des marges: Migrants et réfugiés dans les villes du Proche-Orient, Paris: Téraèdre, 2012
Goirand Camille, Combes Hélène and Garibay David (eds.), Les lieux de la colère, occuper l’espace pour contester, Paris: Karthala; Aix-en-Provence: Sciences Po Aix, 2016
Gunning Jeroen and Zvi Baron Ilan, Why Occupy a Square? People, protest, and movements in the Egyptian Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014
Gyerin Thomas, “A space for place in sociology”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol 26, No 1, 2000
Harvey David, Social Justice and the City, London: Arnold, 1973
Hmed Choukri, “Des mouvements sociaux „sur une tête d’épingle‟ ? Le rôle de l’espace physique dans le processus contestataire à partir de l’exemple des mobilisations dans les foyers de travailleurs migrants”, Politix, Vol 4, No 84, 2008
Hobsbawm Eric and Ranger Terence O, The invention of tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983
Lefebvre Henri, Le droit à la ville, Paris: Anthropos, 1967
Lefebvre Henri, La production de l’espace, Paris: Anthropos, 1974
Lévy Jacques, L’espace légitime, Paris: Presses de Science Po, 1994
Massey Doreen, Allen John (eds.), Geography Matters! A reader, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984
Noyes John, Colonial Space: Spatiality in the Discourse of German South West Africa 1884-1915, Chur: Harwood, 1992
Oslender Ulrich, The geographies of social movements, Afro-Colombian mobilization and the aquatic space, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016
Scott James C, Weapons of the Weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance, New Heaven: Yale University Press, 1985
Schaefer Fred K, “Exceptionalism in Geography: A Methodological Examination”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 43, No. 3., 1953
Séchet Raymonde and Veschambre Vincent (eds.), Penser et faire la géographie sociale. Contributions à une épistémologie de la géographie sociale, Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2006
Soja Edward W, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Place in Critical Social Theory, London: Verso, 1989
Soja Edward W, “Foreward”, Postcolonial Spaces: The Politics of Place in Contemporary Culture (Andrew Teverson and Sara Upstone ed.), Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
Tillly Charles, “Contention Over Space And Place”, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, Vol 8, No 2, 2003
Trom Danny, “De la réfutation de l’effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante. Notes pour une approche pragmatique de l’activité revendicative”, Revue Française de Science Politique, Vol 49, No 1, 1999

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *