I am writing this piece on the train back from Cambridge. It’s a bit of a painful train experience – up with a 5:30am alarm to spend 2 hours and 45 minutes inside a trundling, vibrating diesel-powered metal tube that stops at 12 of the lesser known corners of England – South Wigston? Narborough? – along the way. Then back again.
Still, I am doing so out of choice. When I resigned my post at Cambridge last year for my current job at Birmingham, I had the option of withdrawing from my lecturing commitments. I decided to honour those commitments for a number of reasons. Firstly it was feasible – I arrived at Birmingham after the major teaching responsibilities had been divided up, and I have had a relatively light load in my first year. Secondly, I was teaching on two really good final year Geography courses in Cambridge – four lectures for a paper on changing cultures of risk, coordinated by Ash Amin, and four for a paper on the political geography of post-colonialism, coordinated by Sarah Radcliffe. I had taught on the former course the first time it ran, in 2011/12, and had given my very first lectures on the latter course in 2010/11, and I was happy to work with Ash and Sarah for one more year.
[As I type, by the way, we are crossing the Fens, with bright sunshine out of the right window and snow out of the left.]
Thirdly, and of course the main reason, this was a chance to write some new lectures that I will be offering at Birmingham in 2013/14. Next year, I will be giving a final year option paper on war and peace in the Middle East. I now have most of my lecture material written for it.
The ‘hazardous’ Middle East
1. Geographies of terror/Geopolitics of security (6 February)
2. Israel’s occupation: from colonisation to separation (6 February)
3. Obama’s ‘new beginning’: contingent sovereignty and drone warfare (20 February)
4. The ‘Arab Spring’: risk or opportunity? (20 February)
These four lectures looked at the imaginative geographies of risk and insecurity that have characterised Western relations with the Middle East in the first decade of the 21st Century. The focus shifts from a Bush era, post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ geopolitics in the first lecture, to Obama’s ‘new beginning’ of silent wars, drones and contingent sovereignty, in the third. The lecture on Israel’s occupation draws on the work of Neve Gordon and Eyal Weizman in particular, looking at the power practices involved in the occupation. The final lecture, set up by Obama’s new beginning, looks at the uprisings, successes, failures and conflicts of the ‘Arab Spring’. Three main theoretical approaches frame the lectures – the notion of imaginative geographies, developed by Gregory and others from Said’s work; Giorgio Agamben’s work on homo sacer and the state of exception; and the work on contingent sovereignty, articulated by Stuart Elden.
Section V: Israel and Lebanon: colonial legacies, national imaginaries
13. ‘Israel/Palestine’: the search for the nation-state (6 March)
14. Lebanon: French mandate, the civil war, sectarian politics (6 March)
15. Palestinian refugees: searching for home and identity (13 March)
16. Destroying the camp: from Shatila to Nahr el-Bared (13 March)
This series of four lectures was both about Israel and Lebanon, and the ideas of Israel and Lebanon. The first pair of lecture contained quite a bit of historical detail, tracing the making and evolution of these two states, and the decades of conflict that followed independence. The second pair of lectures focused on the Palestinian refugees, that population caught between these two national projects. The lectures were framed by three themes: nationalism and national identities, the making of nations and securing of states; relations between self and other, how Israelis, Lebanese and Palestinians have attempted to live with and beside each other, as three nations in two states; and the colonial legacies, from Britain’s dual promise to the Arabs and the Jews, to the sectarian politics instituted by France (and before them, the Ottomans) to help the Lebanese get along. The lecture on Lebanon depended on Sara Fregonese’s excellent papers on Lebanon’s discrepant cosmopolitanisms and hybrid sovereignties, and the final lectures allowed me to draw on a lot of my own work on the camps in Lebanon.
These two short lecture series will come together next year at Birmingham. It’s always nice to head back to Cambridge and see old colleagues and former students, but hopefully next year the commute will be a little more bearable.