LIVINGMAPS

We concluded our 2014/5 seminar series with a critical overview of the issues the series had addressed  thus far, a brilliant little film about a town in Kosovo where the maps no longer worked  followed by  a bit of a party. The series has been very successful in building a community of interest and engagement around key topics in critical cartography, bringing together academics, artists and activists.  We also organised a series of special events, including a public lecture, a walkathon in Olympic Park, a workshop on  community mapping in Hackney Wick and a screening of films about the new/old East End.

Next year we are going to change the formula slightly  and each term plan to have a bloc of three events  exploring the same topic, to ensure greater continuity and depth. We may adopt a lecture/discussant format for some of these sessions and also hope to include a practical ‘hands  on’ workshop as part of the package. In the Autumn term the theme will be  ‘Digital Mapping and the not-so -Smart City’.

We are also delighted that Hugh Brody, ethnographer, film maker and author of the pioneering study of  indigenous cartography ‘Maps and Dreams’  has agreed to give our second Annual Public Lecture; this will be hosted by the Institute of Social Research at Birkbeck in mid February next year.

LivingMaps Network is now registered as a company limited by guarantee with five directors, an advisory group, and a membership by subscription. Our registered office is at 18 Victoria Park Square E 2.

One major new departure is the launch of a twice yearly online journal. LivingMaps Review  will contain five sections: Navigations, which is peer reviewed and contains longer more scholarly articles; Waypoints for shorter pieces reporting work in progress; Mapworks, a gallery of original maps with short commentaries; Lines of Desire  which will feature poetry and other creative writing about maps and documentation of performance walks; and Postings, a blog  with reviews and topical comment on books, exhibitions, conferences and other events. We have assembled a very strong editorial team, with five commissioning editors, a core management and production group, including three brilliant young interns  and a number of editors at large. The journal will draw extensively   on material produced for our seminar series but will also commission  new work. The first issue will be launched in the Autumn.

Further information about all these activities can be found on the website:www.livingmaps.org.uk

 

SPEAKING OUT OF PLACE

This is the platform for three LivingMaps community projects in which I have been involved  related to the Olympic Park and East Village, and funded by a consortium of local agencies.  We have worked with Year 8 students at Chobham academy to produce a Young person’s Guide and Map to Olympic Park. A Photography project with East Village residents  has produced a collective portrait of what the area is coming to mean to them, and a video workshop with local teenagers  has done  the same for young people. The overall aim is to construct a narrative of the Post Olympic Legacy grounded in locally situated knowledge and sentiment. We are also carrying out an ethnographic study of East Village  centred on in depth interviews with a representative sample of residents. This work will be showcased in a day conference which we are organising on October 24th at the joint Birkbeck/UEL campus in Stratford. It has been a delight for me to return to ethnographic field work after several years  and to work with young people in helping them exercise their sociological imaginations.

144 AND ALL THAT

I have donated all the materials I have about the London Street Commune and 144 Piccadilly  to the MayDay Rooms. MDR organised a very lively and interesting deposition event attended by a number of old friends and comrades from the sixties. More recently I was asked to give a talk and reading from my memoir at ‘The Shy Archivist’ and again met up with a number of people who had been involved in these events. A film record of  the talk is available on the website. It has been interesting to reflect on the political legacy of the squatting movement in the light of contemporary struggles around the commons. 

EAST LONDON AND THE POST OLYMPICS

All  the crits for On the Wrong Side of the Track?  are now in – they can be read on the website. The book has certainly had the best  reception of anything I have ever written, although this has not been reflected in the sales!  I think this is mainly down to the ‘Olympic cycle effect’- there is an enormous upsurge in public interest in the build up and during the actual Games, but this saturation  coverage produces a backlash, and  public interest rapidly falls away – until the next Games. In the run up to Rio  next year I will be taking part in a number of events related to Olympic Legacy issues, so hopefully this will boost sales...     

I am also co-editing a new book  A Hollow Legacy? East London and the Post Olympic City, a collection of post 2012 legacy studies which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan next year. This will include a chapter based on the new ethnographic research in East Village.  I also  have chapters in two forthcoming collections about the 2012 Games.

  CURRENWRITING LOG

Archive That,Comrade, a pamphlet  exploring the memory politics of the radical archive  is due to be published  shortly by MayDay Rooms. It builds on the presentation I gave to the 144 deposition event.

‘The Centre Will not Hold: changing principles of political hope’   will appear in the August Issue of Soundings. The article is based on a presentation to the Psychoanalysis and History seminar  and is a reflection on the political culture of the left and its  response to the May election defeat.

I was asked to contribute a chapter to a  book on ‘The Subcultural Imagination and Youth Research ’ co-edited by Shane Blackman whom I know from my days at the Institute of Education. Rather than revisit old ground I have used the opportunity to reflect on the notion of ‘generation rent’ and the new precariat in relation to recent debates about the changing nature of ‘modernity’. The  book is due to appear some time next year  from Ashgate.   

 Finally I am currently putting the finishing touches to a  collection of my academic work over the past decade, much of it hitherto unpublished. Material Dreams :maps and territories in the un/making of Modernity  will be published in a hardback edition by Palgrave Macmillan next year. Let’s just hope it makes it into paperback so that people can actually afford to buy it, lol.

A LIFE IN PAINTING 

My partner, Jean McNeil, recently had her 75th birthday  and to celebrate the event  we organised a retrospective exhibition of her painting  at the Burgh House Gallery in Hampstead. For this we produced a catalogue which contains an introduction by Jean, an essay by me on ‘living with painting’ and short commentaries  by people who have bought her work over the years and whose paintings were on display. We also commissioned a short film about Jean’s work. The private view was attended by over 80 people and was a most memorable occasion. Jean also sold a lot of new work!    The catalogue and film are available from her website : www. jean-mcneil.co.uk

THE STEPHEN THOMSON BURSARY

We have established  a small bursary  at Birkbeck in memory of our adoptive son, Stephen, who died two  years  ago, at the age of 33,  from an alcohol related  illness. The bursary is for a mature student  who is having financial difficulties in continuing their studies. I recently had lunch with  the young man who received the first grant. He has got a first in literature and is now planning to do a Masters at Birkbeck, and to write his thesis on the theme of the camp novel.  This year’s bursary will be awarded shortly.

HOW THOUGHT IS PERFORMED

I recently attended lectures  by three  well known academics:Michael Taussig,Ash Amin and Judith Butler and was struck by their very different styles of presentation. It is not just that each has a unique voice and  a strong authorial  signature, but that the relation between their writing and speaking  personae  is  quite complicated. Ash Amin’s  was the most conventional presentation, an account of a  short field trip to Brazil  to study a number of radical urbanist movements. It certainly was a flying trip and reminded me of the kind of hit and run research  that uses interviews with key informants to provide some texture to a largely theoretical discourse. In other words using people  as  pegs to hang your ideas on.To compensate he showed a lot of photographs to provide ‘snap shots’ of the communities he was talking about. Radical Tourism maybe, ethnography it was’nt.  In contrast Michael Taussig is an ethnographer who has built some very interesting  and innovative ideas about power and representation  around his fieldwork. His presentation went to the opposite   extreme and consisted of a performance that eschewed argument and linear narrative altogether in favour of a montage of quotations, visual, textual  and gestural  around a series of motifs relate to sun worship. At one point he inflated a large orange beach ball , to represent the sun, on which he proceeded to perch , somewhat precariously, whilst  commenting , poetically , on   the nature/culture relation. The audience responded enthusiastically enough  but those I  talked to afterwards had not a clue about what he was on about!  Judith Butler  discoursed on the nature of violence and body politics  in discussion with Lynne Segal ; despite her tendency to set up paradigmatic situations abstracted from any concrete social context, a pronounced  tendency amongst moral philosophers which makes ethnographers rather impatient, this dialogue succeeded , where the other presentations did not in providing a set of ‘hooks’ which the audience could respond to and this showed in the quality of the discussion that followed. 

How to perform  essentially ‘private’ thought processes  in public in a way that carries the audience  with you  into some kind of shared dialogic space is a  problem  we all have to wrestle with. I recently had the experience of conducting a walking seminar around the Olympic Park with a group of young German urbanism students. I tried to get them to imagine how the Park might be navigated  by local people, tourists, children and senior citizens as well as using the location to think about regeneration, the financialisation of the urban economy, gentrification, securitisation etc. They found it quite difficult to shift mental gear  between these different levels of engagement until we came to a large piece of ‘dead space’ in the Park and I  invited them to think of activities and structures that might populate and bring it alive. This immediately sparked their sociological  imaginations and they came up with a set of proposals  which challenged the spatial logic of the Park’s planners.   

ON THE BOOKSHELF

I am currently reading Keller Easterling’s Extra Statecraft  which is a brilliant overview of the impact of the Internet and digital technologies on spatial infrastructures. How we map this new ‘underworld’ of invisible connectivity and power, which comprises a kind of 21st century  version of ley lines is a major challenge to both ethnographers, geographers, and cartographers.

After this somewhat bleak dystopian vision of  the future, it was a relief to take a step back into the past with Joseph Mitchell’s collection of documentary stories from the Bowery in its heyday as bohemian quarter during the 1940’s and 50’s. Mitchell, who was a columnist for the New Yorker for many years combines an ethnographer’s eye for the graphic  social detail  with the novelist’s  observation of character. Needless to say the Bowery, like Harlem, has fallen to the forces of  gentrification.

Staying on the other side of the pond I have been enjoying ‘Taking off Emily  Dickinson’s Clothes’ with Billy Collins, whose poems are both  direct and often very  funny but contain hidden depths, both linguistic and emotional. And I am looking forward to reading Ben Lerner’s new novel   10:04 which offers  a  view of New York under water  and beset by political storms...      

and now for something completely different....

WAITING FOR THE BUS

You are waiting for a bus to take you to work. There is no alternative  form of transport and if you walk you will  arrive late – it is at least half an hour to your office on foot, only ten minutes by bus. How long do you wait before deciding that walking is the only option?  The longer you wait the more ‘investment’  you have in the bus coming.  But also the more you prevaricate the later you will arrive when you finally decide to give up waiting and walk. There must be an algorithm to solve this problem, as least if you believe in ‘Smart Cities’. Answers please!