geography

Cindi Katz Keynote, "Revisiting Minor Theory," at 2015 Critical Geography Conference

Minor theory is a way of doing theory differently, of working inside out, of fugitive moves and emergent practices interstitial with ‘major’ productions of knowledge. To do minor theory is to make conscious use of displacement so that new subjectivities, spatialities, and temporalities might be marked and produced in spaces of betweenness that reveal the limits of the major as it is transformed along with the minor. Inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of ‘minor literature,’ I wrote about minor theory twenty years ago causing a ‘minor’ stir, but little else. In the past year or so the idea of the minor has surfaced in several places, not least as the theme of this conference. Asking what might underlie this ‘surgence’ of interest, I will look at some of the political, social, cultural relations and conditions of the present in Geography and in the worlds we inhabit to think about what possibilities minor theory offers for thinking and acting differently in the face of growing economic inequality at all scales, persistent violence against people of color, intensifying environmental crises, joblessness, and social relations of production and reproduction that remain exploitive and oppressive in their articulations of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The Dubious Power of Power Laws

 

Everyone knows the classic normal distribution—the “bell curve,” where most observations cluster around the mean, and the frequency falls off toward either end, with well known statistical properties. Lots of things in nature are more-or-less normally distributed, but lots of things are not. In some cases distributions are “heavy-tailed,” such that for example there are many of the small ones, and increasingly fewer as size increases. Famous examples are the distribution of earthquake magnitudes, rank-size distributions of cities, and the distribution of wealth in societies.

Models of avalanche size distributions in (mathematically-simulated) sand piles were seminal in developing ideas about self-organized criticality and power laws, both in geomorphology and in general. Unfortunately even real sandpiles, much less more complex systems, are not necessarily well described by the models.

Convergence, Divergence & Reverse Engineering Power Laws

Landform and landscape evolution may be convergent, whereby initial differences and irregularities are (on average) reduced and smoothed, or divergent, with increasing variation and irregularity. Convergent and divergent evolution are directly related to dynamical (in)stability. Unstable interactions among geomorphic system components tend to dominate in earlier stages of development, while stable limits often become dominant in later stages. This results in mode switching, from unstable, divergent to stable, convergent development. Divergent-to-convergent mode switches emerge from a common structure in many geomorphic systems: mutually reinforcing or competitive interrelationships among system components, and negative self-effects limiting individual components. When the interactions between components are dominant, divergent evolution occurs. As threshold limits to divergent development are approached, self-limiting effects become more important, triggering a switch to convergence. The mode shift is an emergent phenomenon, arising from basic principles of threshold modulation and gradient selection.

Circular Reasoning

Scientists, including geographers and geoscientists, are easily seduced by repeated forms and patterns in nature. This is not surprising, as our mission is to detect and explain patterns in nature, ideally arising from some unifying underlying law or principle. Further, in the case of geography and Earth sciences, spatial patterns and form-process relationships are paramount.

Unfortunately, the recurrence of similar shapes, forms, or patterns may not tell us much. Over the years we have made much of, e.g. logarithmic spirals, Fibonacci sequences, fractal geometry, and power-law distributions—all of which recur in numerous phenomena—only to learn that they don’t necessarily tell us anything, other than that several different phenomena or causes can lead to the same form or pattern. The phenomenon whereby different processes, causes, or histories can lead to similar outcomes is called equifinality.

Center pivot irrigation in Kansas, USA (USGS photo).

Enforcing equality: court rulings, indigenous women, and political participation in Oaxaca, Mexico

Within the last decade, Mexico´s federal electoral courts have taken unprecedented steps to promote affirmative action in favor of women´s political participation. At the federal, state, and municipal levels, this has largely meant rulings that support legislation on gender-based quotas for public posts.  A stumbling block to this affirmative action initiative has been the predominately indigenous municipalities that hold local elections through tradition and custom instead of universal suffrage and secret ballot. Legally recognized as part of indigenous people´s collective right to self-determination, election through custom and tradition has been difficult to fit into existing juridical logics of gender equality.  In the past three years, however, a growing number of electoral conflicts appealed to the federal courts have brought the question of indigenous women´s political participation to the forefront. I examine several of these cases to explore how the courts mediate between the question of collective self-determination and individual women´s rights, how they seek to promote a liberal notion of gender equality, and how women and communities are responding to their rulings in unexpected ways.  I argue that what is at stake is more than just women´s political participation; rather, these rulings reflect contemporary contestations over gender, indigeneity, modernity, and democracy in Mexico more broadly.  
Holly Worthen is a Professor at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociológicas at the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.  She received her Phd in Geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Her work focuses on gender, migration, development and indigenous politics.
 
Date: 
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm
Location: 
231 White Hall Classroom Building
Type of Event (for grouping events):

Disturbing Foundations

Some comments from a reviewer on a recent manuscript of mine dealing with responses to disturbance in geomorphology got me to thinking about the concept of disturbance in the environmental sciences. Though the paper is a geomorphology paper (hopefully to be) in a geomorphology journal, the referee insisted that I should be citing some of the “foundational” ecological papers on disturbance. These, according to the referee, turned out to be papers from the 1980s and 1990s that are widely cited in the aquatic ecology and stream restoration literature, but are hardly foundational in general.

Consideration of the role of disturbance goes back to the earliest days of ecology, and is a major theme in the classic papers of, e.g., Warming, Cowles, and Clements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A general reconsideration (“reimagining” is the term many would use, but I’ve grown to hate that overused word) of the role of disturbance in ecological systems was well underway by the 1970s, and the last five years or so have seem some very interesting syntheses of these emerging ideas (two I especially like are Mori, 2011 and Pulsford et al., 2014).

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Bank Full Of It

Fluvial geomorphologists, along with hydrologists and river engineers, have long been concerned with the flows or discharges that are primarily responsible for forming and shaping river channels. In the mid-20th century it was suggested that this flow is associated with bankfull stage—the stage right at the threshold of overflowing the channel—and that this occurs, on average, about every year or two in humid-climate perennial streams. If you have to choose just one flow to fixate on—and sometimes you do, for various management, design, and assessment purposes—and have no other a priori information about the river, bankfull is indeed the best choice. But, of course, nature is not that simple.

Geography Journal Receives High Marks

Susan Roberts, Associate Dean for International Affairs and Director of the International Studies Program for the College of Arts and Sciences, serves as co-editor for the journal Progress in Human Geography.

 

The Books That Shaped Them

Summer: a time to catch up on neglected projects, reconnect with old friends and tackle that summer reading list.

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