Intervention symposium – 'Explosive geographies'

On April 15, 2013, two bombs targeting the Boston Marathon exploded on Boylston St, killing three and initiating the United State’s most visible domestic security operation of the decade. Two days later, a fertilizer plant located in the town of West, Texas exploded spectacularly, killing 14 and levelling a significant part of the town. The Boston bombings and the subsequent manhunt were covered non-stop for weeks, while coverage of the West explosion was comparatively sparse. In a posting to the leftgeog listserv, Raju Das asked geographers what connected the two events and how we might explain the discrepancies in media attention. That initial provocation eventually led to this intervention forum which includes all of the participants who responded to the initial questions and others with unique perspectives on how we can better understand crises, violence, and the representational privileging of some deaths over others.

All of the essays in this forum redirect attention from singular events to political-economic contexts, where each explosion is a punctuated moment that creates openings, closures, and possibilities across space and scales. In this way the entire collection is a collective act of what Jamey Essex calls ‘committing geography’ in his contribution. By committing geography we attempt to sort through the relationships, discourses, and practices that connect these explosions and the innumerable people and places, from Main St to Wall St, from Dagestan to Yemen, where the causes and effects of these explosions will continue to reverberate.

In these interventions, the authors are not engaged in the neoliberal academy’s ‘paranoid scholarship’ of exposing tenuous connections and trying to out-clever their colleagues-cum-competitors, but in political observations of the nature of catastrophe. These observations feel all the more urgent, as the frequency of spectacular violence, structural and otherwise, shows no sign of slowing. This forum prompts radical (in the literal sense) thinking about the relationships that are productive of crisis, how they are represented, and how we might forge solidarities across traumatic events. It does this at a time of crisis when the need for radical solidarity is pressing – just when the events in Boston and West, the collapse of a giant garment factory in Bangladesh, the massacre at a parade in New Orleans, and bombings in Baghdad have taken place. (And that is to say nothing of the everyday, non-spectacular violence on offer in its infinite dimensions across the world.)

The value in this type of forum, dealing with current events from a radical geographical perspective, at least in part, lies in having a more tightly tailored set of ideas through which to work. While the essays overlap there are differing inflection points and varying emphases, as some authors foreground political economy, some the state and its relationship to structural (and structured) violence, and some on the types of political responses these observations demand. Hopefully readers will expand on these observations in the comments, bringing us closer to a holistic understanding of crises, be they terrorist acts, industrial catastrophes, socio-ecological calamities, or the everyday violences of capital and neo-imperalism.

Patrick Bigger

Department of Geography, University of Kentucky

[email protected]

The essays

Manufacturing Banality by Patrick Bigger, University of Kentucky

The Social Location of Industrial Disasters: West, Texas in a Wider Perspective by Raju J. Das, York University

Committing Geography by Jamey Essex, University of Windsor

West, TX Through the Damage Mirror: The Enabling Contradictions of Preparedness by Leigh Johnson, University of Zurich

A Political Economy of Distraction: The Boston Marathon Bombings and their Relation to the Fertilizer Facility Explosion in West, Texas by Harold A. Perkins, Ohio University

Connecting the Dots in a Political Economy of Violence by Stephanie Simon, University of Amsterdam

Rules Bloody Rules: Safety, Security, Stockholm Syndrome, and the State by Simon Springer, University of Victoria