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Spaces and Politics of Aesthetics

Calendar Monday 10 June 2019, 12:00-Tuesday 11 June 2019, 17:00

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2nd Annual Social and Cultural Geography Research Group Symposium, 10–11 June 2019, Cardiff University

Organisers: Julian Brigstocke and Günter Gassner

Day 1 - Committee Rooms 1 & 2, Glamorgan Building

Day 2 - Redwood Building

Confirmed participants include Mustafa Dikeç, Deborah Dixon, Jessica Dubow, and Graeme Gilloch.

Relationships between space, aesthetics and politics are an important focus of analysis in arts, social sciences, and geohumanities (Dikeç, 2015; Dixon, 2009; Straughan & Hawkins, 2015; Yusoff, 2017). ‘Aesthetics’, as we use the term here, refers to what presents itself to sensory experience – to structures that frame what is heard and seen. This symposium will explore empirical and conceptual issues including: the sensory grounds of politics; the role of aesthetics in relation to (in)human subjectivity; and the material sites, spaces and landscapes of political aesthetics.

In their analyses of cities, modernity, and the politics of culture, writers associated with the Frankfurt School raised important questions concerning the politics of aesthetics, the spatialities of experience, and the problem of alienation and dehumanization (Gilloch, 1996, 2015). Central to this was a critique of both liberal and Marxist humanisms. Benjamin, for example, looked to the redemptive power of the ‘inhuman’ and ‘creaturely’ (Hanssen, 1998) in developing forms of critique whose enabling conditions were a destabilisation of space, subjectivity, and representation (Dubow, 2004). Such ideas resonate, to some extent, with more recent explorations of Foucault’s aesthetics of existence, Rancière’s politics of aesthetics (Dikeç, 2015), Guattari’s new aesthetic paradigm (Gerlach et al., 2019), and Glissant’s (1997) poetics of relation, which challenge the limits of human experience, and extend the aesthetic transversally across different areas of life.

The usefulness of aesthetic analysis is also being challenged. New materialist and speculative theory, for example, undermine the distinction between an experiencing subject and an object of experience (Seghal, 2018). Decolonial critiques suggest that aesthetics is closely bound up with colonial experiences and ways of seeing (Dubow, 2009; Mignolo & Vázquez, 2013; Jackson, 2016). At the same time, others argue that the aesthetic plays a vital role in reclaiming a ‘re-enchanted’ (Wynter & Scott, 2000) and ‘illiberal’ (Chuh, 2019) humanism that that refuses to cede the terrain of the human to colonial and patriarchal structures of capitalism (McKittrick, 2006). Here, a materialist aesthetic analysis requires inhabiting the fraught space between dehumanisation and deindividuation (Last, 2017), as well as developing new visions of environmental and ecological aesthetics (Blencowe, 2016; Brady, Brook & Prior, 2018; Yusoff, 2010).

We invite participants to address themes including, but not limited to:

  • Politics and structures of experience
  • The relations between political judgement and aesthetic judgement
  • The aestheticisation of politics
  • Aesthetics, humanism, and post-humanism
  • Aesthetics and the spatial production of subjectivities and identities
  • Aesthetics as a lucrative engine of contemporary capitalism
  • Decolonial aesthetics and poetics
  • Feminist materialist aesthetics
  • Environmental aesthetics


The symposium will be small and convivial. It will combine presentations and discussions about selected concepts in a seminar format. We invite participants from all career stages, to either: present a paper (20 mins, plus 10 mins for discussion), or to attend and participate in the discussions without presenting a paper. Please send an expression of interest including an abstract and/or brief bio to by 17:00 on Monday 29 April 2019.

Attendance is free. 3 bursaries of £100 each will be awarded to facilitate participation of postgraduate/unwaged scholars. If you want to be considered for a bursary, send a brief paragraph about how the theme of the symposium relates to your work.

Lunch will be provided. Let us know about any dietary requirements. The times of the symposium will be 12:00–18:00 on Monday 10 June and 9:00–17:00 on Tuesday 11 June. Participants are asked to attend on both days.


Blencowe, C. (2016) Ecological attunement in a theological key: Adventures in antifascist aesthetics, GeoHumanities, 2(1), pp. 24-41.

Brady, E., Brook, I. and Prior, J. (2018) Between Nature and Culture: The Aesthetics of Modified Environments, Rowman & Littlefield.

Caygill, H. (1998) Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience, Routledge.

Chuh, K. (2019) The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man”, Duke University Press.

Dikeç, M. (2015) Space, Politics, and Aesthetics, Edinburgh University Press.

Dixon, D. P. (2009) ‘Creating the semi‐living: on politics, aesthetics and the more‐than‐human’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 34(4), 411-425.

Dubow, J. (2004) ‘Outside of Place and Other than Optical: Walter Benjamin and the Geography of Critical Thought’, Journal of Visual Culture, 3(3), pp. 259-274.

Dubow, J. (2009) Settling the Self: Colonial Space, Colonial Identity and the South African Landscape (VDM Verlag, Saarbrucken).

Gerlach, J., Jellis, T. & Dewsbury, J. D. (eds) (2019) Why Guattari? A Liberation of Cartographies, Ecologies and Politics, Routledge.

Gilloch, G. (1996) Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City, Polity press.

Gilloch, G. (2015) Siegfried Kracauer: Our Companion in Misfortune, Polity Press.

Glissant, E. (1997) Poetics of Relation, trans. B. Wing, University of Michigan Press.

Hanssen, B. (1998) Walter Benjamin's Other History: Of Stones, Animals, Human Beings, and Angels, University of California Press.

Jackson, M. (2016) ‘Aesthetics, politics, and attunement: On some questions brought by alterity and ontology’, GeoHumanities, 2(1), 8-23.

Last, A. (2017) ‘Re-reading worldliness: Hannah Arendt and the question of matter’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 35(1), 72-87.

McKittrick, K. (2006) Demonic Grounds: Black Women and The Cartographies of Struggle, University of Minnesota Press.

Sehgal, M. (2018). Aesthetic Concerns, Philosophical Fabulations: The Importance of a 'New Aesthetic Paradigm', SubStance, 47(1), 112-129.

Straughan, E. & Hawkins, H. (eds) (2015), Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters, Routledge.

Wynter, S. & Scott, D. (2000) ‘The re-enchantment of humanism: An interview with Sylvia Wynter’, Small Axe8, 119-207.

Yusoff, K. (2017) ‘Epochal Aesthetics: Affectual Infrastructures of the Anthropocene’, e-flux.

Yusoff, K. (2010) ‘Biopolitical economies and the political aesthetics of climate change’, Theory, Culture and Society, 27(2), 73-99.

Committee Rooms
School of Geography and Planning, Glamorgan Building
King Edward VII Avenue
CF10 3WA

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