Histories of Radical and Critical Geography

Trevor Barnes (University of British Columbia) and Eric Sheppard (University of California, Los Angeles), March 2013

***Update from the organisers, June 2015***

The Antipode Foundation grant was used to fund the cost of a two-day workshop held in Vancouver to discuss the possibility of writing histories of North American radical geography (March 2013). Participants included Trevor Barnes, Nik Heynen, Audrey Kobayashi, Linda Peake, Jamie Peck, Eric Sheppard and Bobby Wilson.

The topics discussed were far ranging, with Barnes keeping detailed handwritten notes. The talk turned on such basic questions as what defined radical geography? Who should be included as a radical geographer? What was the appropriate starting date for a study of radical geography? What kind of intellectual framework should be used to examine that history? The latter issue provoked much debate. If there was consensus on the best approach to the history of radical geography it was around using a place-based scheme. That is, to link the emergence of radical geographical knowledge and its institutional forms to the places in which they first emerged. Obvious examples included Bill Bunge’s and Gwendolyn Warren’s work in Detroit during the mid-to-late 1960s; the activities of Jim Blaut, Dick Peet, David Stea, and Ben Wisner at Clark University in Worcester, MA, during the late 1960s and early 1970s; David Harvey’s researches as well as those of his students in Baltimore from the early 1970s; and Dick Walker’s writings and those of his students at Berkeley both in Geography and Planning during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In addition to these basic questions, we also discussed potential data sources including the use of oral histories and archival material, both privately and publicly held; the identification of suitable archive sites; potential research funding sources; the geographical range of the study–that is, the extent to which histories of North American radical geography need to be supplemented by histories of non-North American places; and the kinds of events at which we should present our work, and the most suitable form of end products.

We subsequently ran a special session on the history of radical geography in North America at the April 2013 annual meeting of the AAG in Los Angeles with seven speakers: Trevor Barnes, Nik Heynen, Audrey Kobyashi, Linda Peake, Jamie Peck, Eric Sheppard and Bobby Wilson. The session was well attended, 50-70 people, and generated lively questions and discussion.

At that same meeting, we also carried out two oral histories: with Ron Horvath and Dick Walker. Since then we have also variously interviewed: Judith Carney, Joe Darden, Nathan Edelson, Meric Gertler, Amy Glasmeier, David Harvey, Susanna Hecht, Harold Rose, Erica Schoenberger, Michael Storper and Gwendolyn Warren. Our aim is to continue to collect such oral histories especially at AAG annual meetings.

We are also approaching the editors of Antipode to propose a special issue of the journal on the history of radical geography in North America (1954-1984). We are in the midst of negotiating contributions. Here, though, is a preliminary contents lists, and framed in terms of our place-based scheme:

“Introduction: The Rhizomes of North American Radical Geography” (the editors)

“Early beginnings: Race and Civil Rights” (Audrey Kobayashi and Linda Peake)

“Bill Bunge, Gwendolyn Warren, and the Detroit Geographical Institute” (Nik Heynen and Cindi Katz)

“Getting Radical at Clark: The Birth of Antipode” (TBD)

“David Harvey and His Students at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore” (Trevor Barnes and Eric Sheppard)

“The Vancouver Expeditions and the Union of Socialist Geographers” (Nick Blomley, Eugene McCann and Nick Hedley)

“Berkeley Radicals in Geography and Planning” (Jamie Peck)

“Conclusion” (the editors)

The hope also is to arrange a half-day meeting of these contributors on the day before the April 2016 AAG annual meeting in San Francisco.

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The Histories of Radical and Critical Geography workshop was held at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), 1-2 March 2013.

Participating were Trevor Barnes (UBC), Nik Heynen (University of Georgia), Audrey Kobayashi (Queen’s), Linda Peake (York), Jamie Peck (UBC), Damaris Rose (Institut national de la recherche scientifique), Eric Sheppard (UCLA), Bobby M. Wilson (University of Alabama).

Damaris Rose participated primarily through e-mail, and Eric Sheppard participated on Skype both on March 1st and March 2nd (morning and afternoon).

Histories of Radical and Critical Geography

The following agenda was used to structure discussions during the meeting:

1. Statements from each of us about our interests and our stake in the project. Also, what issues would we like the project to cover, and what do we see as coming out of it? Forms of activism? Papers? Special issues? Books?

2. Discuss developing a research plan for the project, including a timetable and the allocation of work tasks. What should be our outputs? Nik suggests that we should aim for a collectively authored book.

3. Discuss sources of money for the project (which will obviously influence the kind of research plan we draw up). Eric thought we should go after multiple sources so as not to put our eggs in a single basket. Obvious funders include SSHRC, ACLS, and potentially the Social Science Research Council and American Geographical Society.

4. Discuss whether there are time-critical tasks that we need to act on now rather than delaying until we formally start the project? Key informants to interview? Key collections to examine?

5. Discuss the AAG panel session and also whether we should collect together our presentations for publication or posting electronically (on the Antipode website, for example).

All five points on the agenda were thoroughly discussed over the two days. It was decided:

1. That a variety of research grants would be applied for beginning with NSF in August of this year, followed by SSHRC, NEH and ACLS.

2. A list of potential interviewees was drawn up and key informants identified. A preliminary set of interviews will begin at the LA AAG meeting. The interviews will be filmed.

3. A list of archival sites was also drawn up, as well as the identification of potential funding sources to digitize archival material.

4. It was agreed that a dedicated website be established for the project. It would be permanent, accessible, privacy protected, multiply-hosted, communicative (users also contributing).

5. It was also agreed that initially a collectively written monograph would be the principal output.

6. A plan was agreed upon for the LA AAG panel on Histories of Radical and Critical Geography.