The Anarchist Roots of Geography: Toward Spatial Emancipation.
Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016; 240pp; ISBN 9780816697731
'Life', declares Simon Springer's opening chapter, 'is tragically fragile' (p22). Rather than wallow in the pains of that fragility, Springer throws every last drop of his zest for life into The Anarchist Roots with a passionate enthusiasm that has been sorely lacking in the geography discipline for some time. The book does not have modest aims: it seeks 'to return anarchist studies to the centre of geography's disciplinary map' (p1). And as one of the foremost figures in the recent growth of anarchist geographies over the past five years or so, none could be better positioned than Springer to undertake such a task.
This book is a collection of six essays drawing from Springer's short but prolific academic career. After a fiery call-to-arms of an introduction, the first chapter charts the genealogy of anarchist geography. Drawing heavily from Elisee Reclus and Peter Kropotkin--central figures in both early geography and anarchism --Springer traces the myriad ways in which anarchist thought and practice has influenced geographical intellectual traditions. Importantly, Springer discusses individuals who are surprisingly under-researched in geography such as Colin Ward and Murray Bookchin. This said, a rather hasty jump from Kropotkin's death to the 1960s is a shame, overlooking some interesting intersections between anarchism and the early urban planning movement.
Chapter two takes issue with the policing of radical thought by Marxist scholars. His unflinching and often witty critiques of Marxism is one of Springer's strengths, although at times these can be rather sweeping and overshadow his more positive proposals about anarchism. Nevertheless, it is an important set of critiques that need to be made in geography. However, it is in chapter three where the geographical contributions of Springer's work emerge fully. The chapter argues that only radical democracy (in Laclau and Mouffe's terms) can produce truly public space. This is because the closing-down of democratic participation through the violently territorialised sovereignty of statist democracy necessarily excludes, silences, and distorts. Thus, 'public space must be taken literally' (p108), whereby radical democracy is a permanent 'means without end' (p126) to produce emancipatory, relational spaces without the need for violent coercion.
The following chapter develops Springer's thinking on (non)violence in interesting and challenging ways. He argues that the singularity of both revolution and religion lead to teleological violences that are ultimately authoritarian in character. Instead, he proposes that universality need not be essentialising, and that geographers must attune themselves to the thought of Tolstoy and Reclus to counteract such assumptions. In doing so, Springer asks us to move away from the authoritarian violences of organised religion and to channel the progressive dimensions of faith in non-coercive and non-violent ways.
The final chapter is in many ways the most theoretically interesting, exploring the entanglements of power, vision and authority in radical transformation and possible futures. Beginning with a Deleuzian critique of the 'arboreal' nature of political economy and scale in geography, Springer draws on GibsonGraham's post-Marxist 'diverse economies' ideas to rethink the meaning of transformation as a non-linear, everyday process that rejects a 'politics of waiting' (p163). In concluding, he proposes that we reject 'progress' as such, in favour of imagining the future as a 'horizon' (p155) toward which we can take many spatio-temporally situated paths.
Critics may find Springer abrasive in his dismantlement of much that radical social science has held dear over the past four decades. Indeed, it is sometimes uncomfortable reading even for one who broadly agrees with him. Nevertheless, in doing so, Springer shakes the foundations of the comfortable critical orthodoxy that mainstream geography has happily integrated into its repertoire. Alongside original engagements with a wide array of topics and thinkers, this book is an antidote to such intellectual comfort. For this reason, and more, it should be welcomed wholeheartedly.
Anthony Ince, Cardiff University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2018|
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