Building on the success of the Centre’s previous annual conferences, this year’s was bigger and better than ever. Over 80 delegates attended and 67 papers were presented, both by academics and those working outside of academia, from 21 different countries and from a variety of disciplines, ranging across architecture, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, politics and sociology. This made for a genuinely productive international and interdisciplinary conference.
In a world where inequality and poverty are growing remorselessly, where you are, and where you happen to have been born, continue to determine, how, and in indeed whether, you live. From the urbanization of the human species and the burgeoning of slums to the rise of the modern gated community; from ‘Fortress Europe’ and the Israeli ‘security wall’ to land reform in South Africa; questions of space and place are central to some of today’s most bitterly contested political issues. This conference asked what an analysis of politics which focuses on the operation of power through space and place, and on the spatial structuring of inequality, might tell us about the world we make for ourselves and others.
The conference got off to an excellent start thanks to Catherine Harper, Head of Architecture and Design, who opened proceedings with a though-provoking talk. The papers given at the conference addressed the question of the politics of space and place in a variety of ways and from many different of perspectives. Papers ranged from theoretical explorations of the nature of property rights to specific case studies regarding the way that architecture is used to discipline and control. There were papers that explored the liminal spaces and places of contemporary political reality and the marginalised groups who inhabit them, as well as those which elaborated spatial or political theories of resistance: and many other things in-between.
Examples of the original research presented at the conference include work by Rebecca Pohl, University of Manchester, on ‘Theorising Space and Sexuality’. Pohl’s work uses Foucault’s notion of the Panopticon and draws on Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau to explore space and sexuality and the power politics involved in discussions of sexuality. Breno Bringel, University of Madrid, presented a paper on developing a spatial history of collective action which drew on extensive field work which he has undertaken in Brazil. Focusing on the development of Yaletown, Vancouver, Sylvia Nicholles’, University of Victoria, work on the built environment drew on Eyal Weizman’s work on the architecture of crisis to offer fresh insights into how architecture and surveillance are used to exclude some and offer a sense of security to others in supposedly ‘normal’ conditions of urban development.
Perhaps the highlight of the three days was the talk given by the keynote speaker, the widely acclaimed historian of the Middle East, Illan Pappe. Pappe gave a talk on historic Palestine, Zionism and the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, which explored the limits of academic language and highlighted the need to correctly theorise what is happening if anything is to be done about it. This lead to a passionate and wide-ranging debate on colonialism and its various historical and changing contemporary forms.
The organisers are planning to produce a volume of papers from the conference, to be edited by a group of postgraduate students from Brighton and other universities.