Professor of Geography
Graduate Center, City University of New York
Please join us (either in-person or virtually!) for the 2023 Antipode American Association of Geographers Lecture on Friday 24 March between 4:30pm and 5:50pm Mountain Daylight Time (https://aag.secure-platform.com/aag2023/solicitations/39/sessiongallery/schedule/items/6941). The lecture will take place in Centennial Ballroom D, Hyatt Regency, Third Floor, and will be recorded and archived on the AAG website until 25 June; it will be available to all on http://antipodeonline.org/ soon after.
Like Antipode itself, Cindi stated out from the Graduate School of Geography of Clark University, arriving for a BA two years after the journal’s founding and going on to earn an MA in 1979 and, following a period as Visiting Lecturer at Khartoum University and fieldwork elsewhere in Sudan, a PhD in 1986. A move to CUNY and work directing the Children’s Environments Research Group and Center for Human Environments marked the beginning of an enduring relationship with the university (and a return to her city of birth). Cindi was Assistant Professor from 1987 to 1994, Associate Professor to 1999, and has been a Professor at the Graduate Center since, serving as both Chair of Environmental Psychology and Executive Officer of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Among her many honours and awards, Cindi’s work has been recognised by the American Association of Geographers with their Distinguished Scholarship Honors in 2021, the 2015 James Blaut Award for Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism towards Social Justice (from the Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group), and the 2004 Meridian Book Award for Outstanding Scholarly Work in Geography (for her Growing up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives, which examines global change through children’s lives in New York City and Sudan). What’s more, Cindi also features in Key Thinkers on Space and Place—is there a higher honour than that?!
Whatever the answer, here at Antipode we were thrilled when Cindi agreed to present the 2023 Antipode AAG Lecture: she presented the 2001 Antipode Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Lecture, so it’s high time we heard from her again. It’s also high time to re-engage with her work. Playing her cards close to her chest, we don’t have an abstract for “Topographies of Hope”, but given how hope is thin on the ground right now in many places, we appreciate the title. Cindi’s work, we’d argue, has long offered resources for hope aplenty—tools for thinking with, for reading the environments in which we find ourselves, and for moving beyond them to better futures. Consider the following three elements—social reproduction, topography, and minor theory—as a primer to her lecture.
First, Cindi’s focus on social reproduction—understood as not just the “fleshy, messy, and indeterminate stuff of everyday life” (Katz 2001a: 711), as not just the “mundane and unspectacular practices by which we construct ourselves and reproduce society” (Katz 1991: 506), but as the very practices through which “capitalism and other relations of domination and exploitation, together with their mobile subjects, are produced, maintained, and remade” (Katz et al. 2003: 433). Reproduction, understood thus, is “in dialectical relation with production … mutually constitutive and in tension” (Katz 2001a: 711), and because of this there is always “potential for rupture, breakdown, and transformation”; nothing is guaranteed, and “[a]t particular historical junctures, the potential for these is heightened” (Katz 1991: 506). Social reproduction, “the minutia and magnificence of life’s work”, holds “the possibility for altering, undermining, and undoing these relations [of domination and exploitation]—for making new subjects” (Katz et al. 2003: 433). There’s something profoundly hopeful about Cindi’s unwavering focus on it, about her refusal to simply assume, for example, that individuals have always already been formed as workers in capitalist societies by virtue of a historical separation from the means of production. An openness to their “resilience”, “reworking”, and “resistance” (Katz 2004: 243) in the face of continual change—how people actually cope with their changing conditions of life (think of the current crises in social welfare, education, housing, health care, and public space), sometimes seeking to alter them, and sometimes even radically rejecting them—reveals just how contingent the order of things is.
Second, Cindi’s writings on “topography”. Topography, as every good geographer knows, is “both the detailed description of a particular location and the totality of the features that comprise the place itself” (Katz 2001a: 720). Examining not only these features but also “their mutual and broader relationships”, topographies “embed a notion of process, of places made and nature produced … producing topographies necessarily situates places in their broader context and in relation to other areas” (Katz 2001b: 1228). Such “deliberate, purposeful, and systematic” (Katz 2001a: 720) detailed description is unavoidably “partial, and, of course, interested” (Katz 2001b: 1215), and through her work Cindi urges us to take on the power of topography. When we provide “thick descriptions of particular places that can get at the ways in which a process associated with—for example—the globalization of capitalist production, the prosecution of war, or the imposition of structural adjustment programs affects a particular place”, at best we provide not just an examination of “particular processes in place” but of “their encounters with sedimented social relations of production and reproduction” (2001a: 720, 721). It’s not simply that processes associated with globalisation (etc.) make place; what’s important in place making is their “encounter with existing social relations and material social practices in particular places” (2001b: 1228). Critical geographers might then create “countertopographies”, connecting very different places with “contour lines” between “particular relations to a process” (2001b: 1229) that is common to them. The hope here is to be found in “a politics that works the grounds of and between multiply situated social actors in a range of geographical locations who are at once bound and rent by the diverse forces of globalization” (2001b: 1214), war, and so on. Those diverse forces might today be everywhere all at once, but they’re not everything: the crux of the matter is how they encounter sedimented social relations, existing material social practices, and a countertopography connecting points of encounter with contour lines could prove powerful in the making of movements against them.
Finally, consider Cindi’s development of the idea of “minor theory”. When it comes to examining processes—the globalization of capitalist production, the prosecution of war, or the imposition of structural adjustment programs, for example—Cindi has long promoted “theory that is interstitial with empirical research and social location, that self-reflexively interpolates the theories and practices of everyday historical subjects—including, but not restricted to, scholars. This is not ‘master theory’ so much as it is ‘minor theory’” (1995: 166). Minor theory is “a different way of working with material … a completely other, but not necessarily antagonistic, way of working with material and ideas … working and reworking theoretical productions from the inside” (1996: 489, 496, 497). Processes like globalisation, war, and so on “are of course structural, but they are encountered and made sensible in everyday life”. A “broad brushstroke analysis”—the kind offered by traditional Marxism, say—is invaluable for illuminating uneven developments globally and how they come to “take their tolls in violence, dispossession, accumulation”, yet it “doesn’t illuminate much about how these social relations work—let alone how they feel … are encountered and lived, refused and reimagined” (2017: 598, 599). Whether we’re in Sudan or New York City, starting where we’re at, our encounter with the structural, minor theory encourages us to “to be genuinely cartographic—mapping a politics from our situated positions”. After all, “we are lost—metaphorically and materially—if we think they are of separate worlds” (1996: 495).
To mark Cindi’s 2023 Antipode AAG Lecture, we have made the articles below available to readers without a subscription. Together they reflect themes germane to her work, and will, we hope, offer further reading to her lecture. Many thanks to Cindi, from everyone at Antipode the journal and the Antipode Foundation, for agreeing to join us in Denver, CO and to Wiley’s Grace Ong, Hannah Lindert and Tom Saxton for all their help with the lecture.
“Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction” by Cindi Katz (2001)
“Life’s Work: An Introduction, Review and Critique” by Cindi Katz, Sallie A. Marston and Katharyne Mitchell (2003)
“Queer Global Displacement: Social Reproduction, Refugee Survival, and Organised Abandonment in Nairobi, Cape Town, and Paris” by Ali Bhagat (2023)
“Speculative Urban Worldmaking: Meeting Financial Violence with a Politics of Collective Care” by Brandi T. Summers and Desiree Fields (2022)
“Navigating Wait Space in Uncertain Times: Young Women and Precarious Labour in Turkey” by Hilal Kara and Beverley Mullings (2022)
“Caring Housing Futures: A Radical Care Framework for Understanding Rent Control Politics in Seattle, USA” by Samantha Thompson (2022)
“‘What is Our City Doing for Us?’: Placing Collective Care into Atlanta’s Post-Public Housing Movements” by Akira Drake Rodriguez (2022)
“A Logic of Care and Black Grassroots Claims to Home in Detroit” by Jessi Quizar (2022)
“Reproducing the Plot: Making Life in the Shadow of Premature Death” by Rachel Goffe (2022)
“‘Stuck In-Between’: Placing the Underdocumented Youth Movement in Georgia” by Carrie Freshour and Daniela Iniestra Varelas (2022)
“The Post-Political Violence of Racial Property Regimes: Maintaining Gardens’ Land Insecurity through Abstract Codes in East Harlem, NYC” by Chantal Gailloux (2022)
“Mothering and the Racialised Production of School and Property Value in New York City” by Maria Kromidas (2022)
“Indigenous Youth and Decolonial Futures: Energy and Environmentalism among the Diné in the Navajo Nation and the Lepchas of Sikkim, India” by Mabel Denzin Gergan and Andrew Curley (2021)
“The Significance of the Insignificant: Borders, Urban Space, Everyday Life” by Olga Lafazani (2021)
“A Value Theory of Inclusion: Informal Labour, the Homeworker, and the Social Reproduction of Value” by Alessandra Mezzadri
Katz C (1991) Sow what you know: The struggle for social reproduction in rural Sudan. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81(3):488-514
Katz C (1995) Major/minor: Theory, nature, and politics. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85(1):164-168
Katz C (1996) Towards minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14(4):487-499
Katz C (2001a) Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode 33(4):709-728
Katz C (2001b) On the grounds of globalization: A topography for feminist political engagement. Signs 26(4):1213-1234
Katz C (2004) Growing up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Katz C (2017) Revisiting minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35(4):596-599
Katz C, Marston S A and Mitchell K (2003) Life’s work: An introduction, review, and critique. Antipode 35(3):415-442