One of the tasks I promised to do during my job interview at Birmingham last June was run their human geography seminar series – Tabula Rasa. Now in post, the responsibility passes to me from January. I now have a great line up of speakers for next term, including Colin McFarlane, Paula Meth, Alex Vasudevan, Jessica Pykett, Stephen Taylor and Sara Fregonese.
In addition, I got to give the final seminar of the Autumn term this week. My paper was titled ‘Spaces of Encampment’, and it drew together various threads of work I have done, am doing and plan to do, on refugee camps, protest camps and prison camps. While these might all seem very different kinds of spaces, actually I think they are similar in at least three ways:
1. Camps are exceptional: outside the normal political order, spaces of exception, of blurred sovereignties, of experimental new political formations and relations;
2. Camps are tactical: they have a function, and achieve certain ends, whether for the state, for international humanitarian agencies, or for protesters.
3. Camps are enduring but temporary: materially, politically, camps are transient, liminal spaces. They serve a function, then come to an end.
The camp is an arena in which the geopolitical and the everyday are intertwined, shape and manifest each other. From Guantánamo Bay to Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park to Nahr el-Bared, the camp as an exceptional space for exceptional political acts has increasingly become the normal terrain and tactic for both state action and popular resistance.
Coincidentally, my paper on Spatialising the Refugee Camp has just been published by Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. In the paper, I offer a three-part analysis of how Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are assembled temporarily, outside the sovereign control of the state. This spatial analysis of the camp, understanding how it is constituted and functions spatially, is a way of grounding geopolitics in the everyday: understanding the small moments and acts that negotiate and constitute broader geopolitical architectures in the spaces of the camp and beyond.