Academic Boycotts, the AAG, and the Trump Muslim Ban

In response to the now week-old (and partially suspended) US ban on migrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations, as well as President Trump’s announcement that subsequent easing of these restrictions would include a preference for non-Muslims, I have been following a growing number of conversations, online and sometimes literally around the office water cooler. It appears that I am far from alone in trying to figure out an appropriate response.

Inspired, in part, by the apparent success that the cancellation of major events has had in generating opposition to North Carolina’s transgender ‘bathroom bill’, and, going back to the 1990s, in forcing recognition of Martin Luther King Day in Arizona, there has been a growing movement to boycott US-based academic meetings. Given the timing of things, and the particular academic community that I belong to, most of my exposure has specifically been to debates surrounding the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers, to be held next month in Boston. I’m well aware, though, that similar debates have been transpiring among the membership of other international professional organizations with planned annual meetings in the US.

Before continuing, a bit of self-positioning is in order. As a US passport holder living abroad, I am arguably more affected by this order than US citizens in the US, but less affected than non-US citizens or, of course, citizens of (or past visitors to) any of the seven named states. I also am less affected than any of the countless individuals who, for reasons of skin tone, surname, travel history, birthplace, nationality, or religion, have long sought to avoid US border crossings. On the other hand, although it doesn’t usually weigh heavily on my identity, I myself am the child of a war refugee, and that may also  influence my perspective.

And finally, as editor of a journal called Political Geography, I don’t feel like it would be right for me to be silent on this topic which is most certainly one of political geography. That said, Political Geography has its own long history with boycotts, and what follows are purely my own beliefs and opinions and not those of the journal.

So, here goes…. Continue Reading »

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Papers sought for Ocean Governance kick-off conference, Bremen March 2017


For about a year now, I’ve been working with an international consortium, based out of the University of Bremen, on a European Union COST Action to explore futures for ocean governance. Kimberley Peters and I, co-convenors of the seabed section of the initiative, are soliciting papers for the kick-off conference, to be held March 6-8 in Bremen. For more information and instructions on abstract submission, see the full conference announcement. Note that abstracts are due December 31.


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We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1932

Like so many people, I’m still reeling from the US election. Since long before Election Day, the news media have been suggesting historical analogues for Trump’s elitist populism (or populist elitism): Berlusconi or Mussolini are probably the closest parallels. In the US context, there’s William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Jackson, although neither had Trump’s elitist pretensions. Some have suggested Theodore Roosevelt, and that, it seems to me, gets a bit closer.

But let’s put things into a context less focused on personality and agendas and more on the geo-historic times…. Continue Reading »


Ray Milefsky, 1949-2016

Ray_MilefskyI was saddened to learn of the death of Ray Milefsky, one of the most prominent and engaging individuals in the international boundary community. I didn’t know Ray well (I think I met him three times in my life), but he was the sort of person who made a lasting impression. So, Martin Pratt’s moving tribute on his Bordermap blog has compelled me to add my own contribution to Ray’s memory.

As Martin notes, Ray was a long-time employee of the US State Department’s Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, where he was a leading expert in boundary and sovereignty matters. In that role, he was a steady friend of IBRU and a frequent tutor at IBRU training workshops. Although a consummate professional, Ray somehow had the air and enthusiasm of a brilliant amateur, a man who seemed always surprised by his knowledge…and delighted by it. And he shared that delight with others, bringing energy to all those around him. It is perhaps a cliche to call someone ‘full of life’ (and, I suppose, it’s a bit of an oxymoron in an obituary), but I can’t think of a better way to describe Ray. Continue Reading »

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REF as Progressive Force? The Stern Report and the Broadening of ‘Impact’

For the past few days my little corner of the Internet has been filled with reflections on the just released Stern report on the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). To keep things simple for non-UK readers, REF is an assessment exercise held every five to seven years that the UK government uses to allocate block grants to universities. Not surprisingly, then, universities are always looking for ways to score high on REF and thereby maximise funding. [Actually, I think REF’s influence is disproportionate to the funding that it allocates, but that’s another issue.]

I have to admit that my first reaction when I saw Lord Stern’s recommendations were that if these had been in place four years ago I might not have gotten my current job! Two of the points made by the department to the university to justify my hire were that I would bring publications with me (for the 2014 REF) and that I would provide a means for tying research to an Impact Case Study (for the anticipated 2021 REF). Stern recommends that the former be eliminated and that the latter be deemphasised.

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Tor Benjaminsen joins Political Geography


Bildet viser Tor A. Benjaminsen , Noragric , NMBU

Tor Benjaminsen

Political Geography is pleased to announce the latest addition to the editorial team: Tor Benjaminsen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, who has joined the journal as an associate editor. Tor will be replacing James Sidaway, who is stepping aside after over a decade with the journal. James will be winding down the articles that he’s currently working on, with plans to leave the journal by the end of the year.

Tor, whose research interests range from the political drivers and impacts of soil loss in the Sahel to notions of “green governmentality” to Sami reindeer herding in Finnmark,  brings an expertise in political ecology and environment-development politics to the journal. Additionally, his fluency in French (as well as Norwegian) and his extensive research in Africa should help expand Political Geography beyond the Anglo-American tradition. We’re delighted to have him join the journal and look forward to the many contributions that he’ll be making over the coming years.

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I (Don’t) Sea: On Ocean Invisibilities


I’m presently en route to what promises to be a truly inspiring week at UC-Irvine, where Liz DeLoughrey and Lisa Paravisini-Gebertis are leading a week-long interdisciplinary seminar of ocean theorists to workshop works-in-progress on how we think of, with, on, and about the ocean as well as its human and more-than-human ecologies. In the spirit of things, I’m writing this blog post somewhere over the Atlantic, to be uploaded when I land in Newark (or later, in Irvine, if the layover is rushed).

Reading through some of the pre-circulated drafts, it appears that a central theme likely to emerge this week will be questions of ocean (in)visibility. Sight has long had a privileged role in structuring how we understand our planet and its processes, but vision of marine space is frequently confounded by the ocean’s volume as well as its darkness. Even as knowledge of earth systems and global economic flows lead us to understand the concept of a world ocean, and even as the sea remains a productive platform for envisioning futures (both of which are themes explored in a number of the working papers and supplementary articles that I’ve just been reading), the sea remains a difficult place for us to visualise in its wholeness. I’m only half way through the workshop papers, but I think it’s fair to say, at this point, that each of the contributors either writes directly about or attempts to confront the problems inherent in conceiving of the ocean as a space of vision (in every sense of the word). Continue Reading »

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