Spatial Justice as Research Practice
Emerging from a confluence of technological tools, theoretical infrastructures, and political concerns of the mid 2000s, the framework of “spatial justice” has multiplied the forms used by researchers to share—and sometimes make—work with the public. Attuned to both operations and contestations of power, these various “people’s” atlases, guidebooks, storymaps, walking tours, and geolocated media projects originate in different disciplines and cut across digital and analog platforms. They share a commitment to reaching both academic and popular audiences to make spatial injustice perceivable, challengeable, and therefore changeable. However, while such projects might aspire to expose and contest colonial, racial, and environmental injustice, they may rely on data dependent on the perpetration of harm and render it perceptible primarily to audiences physically distanced from its most brutal effects. Dominant cultural metaphors for navigating physical and virtual spaces risk reinscribing colonialist paradigms of exploration and discovery. Conventions of the digital interface—like the map’s God’s eye view or GIS applications that center the user’s body—are hardly conceptually neutral, yet defying them can diminish the accessibility of content. Moreover, such projects usually involve collaboration not just between similarly positioned scholars but also with librarians, designers, technologists, students, and non-academic communities that unfold within institutional management cultures that often organize collaborations along hierarchical and neoliberal lines even while seeking to capitalize on the reputational benefits of accessible and inclusive public scholarship.
This panel brings together researchers engaged with a diverse array of recent spatial humanities projects to consider the conceptual, practical, and political dimensions of their work. What practices of data collection and interpretation might guide the creation of spatial platforms about spatial (in)justice? What publics are envisioned and assembled by these projects? What roles can design play—infrastructurally, graphically, and experientially—to trouble distanced consumption and foster recognition? And finally, what practices of collaboration, coordination, and (anti-) institutionalization have been developed that further, enact, and clarify the work’s underlying liberatory goals?
Torn Apart/Separados + #prmapathon (Rapid Response Research)
Hōkūlani K. Aikau (Kanaka ‘Ōiwi) is a professor at the University of Victoria in the Indigenous Governance Program. Aikau is an interdisciplinary scholar with training in American Studies and Sociology and teaching experience in Political Science, Indigenous Politics, Native Hawaiian Politics, and Pacific Islands Studies. She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation and research grants from the UH Mānoa Sea Grant Program, the SENCER Institute, the Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities, and NSF. She has published three books: A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawaiʻi (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), Feminist Waves, Feminist Generational Cultures: Life Stories from Three Generations in the Academy, 1968-1998(co-edited with Karla Erickson and Jennifer L. Pierce, University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaiʻi (co-edited with Vernadette V. Gonzalez, Duke University Press, 2019). With Vernadette V. Gonzalez, she edits the Detours Series with Duke University Press. Her next full-length monograph Becoming Hoa with ʻĀina: Returning People and Practices to Heʻeia is an ethnography of a wetland restoration project in Heʻeia, Oʻahu. Aikau has served as associate editor of American Quarterly, currently serves on the editorial advisory board for Mormon Studies Review, and serves on editorial boards for book series at the University of Arizona Press and the University of Hawaiʻi Press. While at the University of Utah, Aikau served as director of the Pacific Islands Studies program and with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, created new curricular and research opportunities for Pacific Islander students.
Vernadette Gonzalez is Professor of American Studies and Director of the Honors Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her areas of research include studies of tourism and militarism, transnational cultural studies, feminist theory, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies with a focus on Asia and the Pacific. Her most recent book, Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper (Duke 2021) is an exploration of the intimacies of imperial geopolitics through the life story of a mixed-race vaudeville and film actress and sometime mistress of General Douglas MacArthur. She is coeditor, with Hōkūlani K. Aikau, of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i (Duke 2019), which curates alternative, place based narratives, art, and itineraries that present a decolonial archive and vision for life in Hawai’i. Detours now anchors a book series with Duke University Press, with volumes on Guåhan/Guam, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Okinawa, Singapore and other sites in development. Her first book, Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines (Duke 2013) looks at the interoperability and overlaps between cultures of tourism and militarism in two sites of American Empire. In 2016, she co-edited, with Jana K. Lipman and Teresia Teaiwa, an American Quarterly special issue on the convergences of tourism and militarism.
Alex Gil is the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Columbia University, where he collaborates with faculty, students and library colleagues in humanities research, pedagogy and knowledge production that involves the use of advanced computation, digital media design, and network technologies. He is the lead coordinator for the Butler Library Studio at Columbia University Libraries, a tech-light library space focused on digital scholarship and pedagogy, and now a broadcast, Studio Remote. He is also co-founder and moderator of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, a trans-disciplinary research cluster focused on experimental humanities; one of the creators and main editors of archipelagos journal: a journal of Caribbean digital praxis, and co-wrangler of its sister conference series,The Caribbean Digital. You can learn more about his forking paths on “The Six Profiles” Page.
Sarah Kanouse is an interdisciplinary artist and critical writer examining the political ecology of landscape and space. Migrating between video, photography, and performative forms, her research-based creative projects shift the visual dimension of the landscape to allow hidden stories of environmental and social transformation to emerge. Her solo and collaborative creative work—most notably with Compass and the National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service—has been presented through the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Documenta 13, the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, Krannert Art Museum, Cooper Union, Smart Museum, and numerous academic and artist-run venues. Her writings on landscape, ecology and contemporary art have appeared in Acme, Leonardo, Parallax, and Art Journaland numerous edited volumes. A 2019-2020 fellow at the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig Maximilians Universität, she is Associate Professor of Media Arts in the Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University.
Shiloh Krupar is a geographer and Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor at Georgetown University, where she directs the Culture and Politics Program in the School of Foreign Service. Her research examines the biopolitical administration of asymmetrical life, geographies of waste and vulnerability, and bureaucracy. This has included work on decommissioned military landscapes and nuclear natures; environmental and financial crisis; model cities and ecologies of spectacle; neoliberal biomedicine, medical geographies of waste, and hospital land politics. The recipient of a Quadrant Fellowship, she is author of Hot Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), co-author of Deadly Biocultures: The Ethics of Life-making (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), and co-author of the forthcoming volume Exaction: Governing Territories of Austerity, Bias, and Dross (SAGE “Society and Space” book series). Krupar also co-directed the National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service and experiments with performance-based geographical analysis. More of her work can be found on academia.edu and website https://www.shilohkrupar.com/
Arjun Shankar is an anthropologist, critical pedagogue, and mediamaker whose work falls into three broad areas. First, he is concerned with the politics of help and its role in upholding systems of racial capitalism. In his current book project, Brown Saviors and their Others, he takes India’s burgeoning help economy, specifically the education NGO sector, as a site from which to interrogate these ideas. He shows how colonial, racial, and caste formations undergird how transnational and digitized NGO work is done in India today. Second, he is a visual anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker who has been interested in developing decolonial, participatory visual methodologies. He has primarily focused on the neocolonial politics of representation, global circulation, and reception of the “impoverished” and “suffering” child figure and offers new multimodal methods as alternatives to these paradigms. He is also interested in multimodal evaluation and publishing, asking questions regarding the possibilities that might accompany non-textual knowledge production. Towards this end, he is a current editor with the multimodal section of American Anthropologist. Finally, he is an advocate for Curiosity Studies (with Perry Zurn), an emerging interdisciplinary field which challenges us to think anew about scholarly production, pedagogic praxis, and the political role of the academician. Arjun asks: what might a radical curiosity make possible and what political, economic, and social constraints prevent the flourishing of curiosity?
Jo Guldi is Associate Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, external faculty at the Stevanovich Institute of the University of Chicago, a former fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She is faculty in SMU’s Data Science Program and the founder and director of its Digital Humanities Program. Her research broadly follows issues of landownership, reparations in land, participatory mapping, housing, rent, commons systems, and everyday infrastructures of commonality such as the sidewalk. She is author of Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State (Harvard 2012), (with David Armitage) The History Manifesto (Cambridge 2014) and The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights (Yale 2022). She teaches courses on text mining, the history of capitalism, and the British occupation of India. Among her recent publications is “The Birth of Rent Control” (2020), https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/housing/333705/the-birth-of-rent-control/, and “Scholarly Infrastructure as Critical Argument” (2020) http://digitalhumanities.org:8081/dhq/vol/14/3/000463/000463.html. The latter article describes the merits of many participatory mapping projects — and other infrastructural projects similar to those discussed in this forum.