Ash Amin’s retirement party – My oral festschrift to him

Yesterday, 29th Sept 2022, I took part in the retirement party of my former first PhD supervisor and fundamental academic mentor, Ash Amin. The event was organised by Bhaskar Vira at the Department of Geography, the University of Cambridge, followed by an evening dinner at Emmanuel College.

Beyond an engaging conversation among Ash, Philip Howell, and Maan Barua, the day consisted of a series of ‘oral testimonies’ and celebrations of Ash’s thinking and doing, carried through by four of his former students. I shared the task with the excellent Tatiana Theme, Lisa Richaud and Maria Hagan.

I owe a lot to Ash. His intellectual curiosity and his care for my persona were fundamental to the development of my own thinking and love for academic work. Below you can read my oral festschrift to him, which I hope summarise well my sentiment toward Ash the person, and Ash the scholar. At the end of the text, some pictures of the event, taken by Stephen Ajadi (shared with permission).




The framework of the encounter

Michele Lancione, for Ash Amin

Thank you for having me here today. It is a great honour to be part of this afternoon for and with Professor Ash Amin. I am honoured to be here because it means that in joining celebration, I have also – at least a little – been part of the journey. I am talking about the journey of an individual who has constantly questioned the grounds he has contributed to establishing, the journey of a scholar that has shown, at every turn, genuine conceptual and political curiosity: Ash as a being thirst for ideas, for well written and engaging arguments, for ways of thinking beyond the canon. This day allows me to thank Ash for a unique gift he gave me and many others: I am referring to the reverberance of his intellectual desire, a vibrance that at times accelerated as an impatience, a power inviting who encounters it to question and to push; to read more and to read better; to write with consideration; to treat intellectual labour with care.

The privilege of having encountered Ash’s intellectual affection renders being here at the same time beautiful and tricky. I want to be honest: I have struggled to put this short text together. And this is not because I don’t know what to say about Ash’s scholarship – but it is because, ultimately, I am not sure I want to say, I am not sure I want to be part of the ritual marking the process of retirement.

I started writing these lines few weeks ago. In my spare time, I went back to some of the early writings of Ash, which included, among the known text on economic and regional geography, a rich report – typed in Italian – on the ‘Stella’ neighbourhood in Naples. Then I re-read his foundational works on placing globalisation, regional inequalities, and the quest to argue for a new politics of place (what Doreen Massey called a ‘progressive sense of place’). I then switched to the writings on ethnicity, race, and encounters, and continued with the book through which I first encountered his thinking – back in 2006, reading for my Master’s degree the Italian translation of Cities, Re-imagining the Urban, coauthored with Nigel Thrift. After that, I dwelt again in the pages of my favourite book of his, Land of Strangers; then I flipped, this time faster, through the pages of my least favourite book of his, Arts of the Political (Nigel will pardon me, I hope). This journey was concluded by re-appreciating his most recent works on the notion of animated space, his papers on migrant mental health in Shanghai with Lisa Richaud, and by re-reading the introduction to the book we recently co-edited together for Duke – another of his gifts to me.

In re-approaching these texts, I was moved by the idea of providing to you today a concise overview of how these separate bodies of work are ‘one’; to give you a hint of how, at least in my reading, they are all grounded in a profound desire – a power – to articulate a politics for the just city – a project that for Ash entails questioning and re-approaching each of these terms anew. City, as a mechanosphere of human and non-human that has an act of its own, a life trespassing the rationale of policy, an intelligence of intelligences made of computations but also of affects, of atmospheres as much as of cement, of intentionalities and violent extractions, as much as of di-vidual, only partially and momentarily coherent, assemblage of volitions, metabolic and ecologic impulses, matter and discourse. Just, as a question of what kind of justice and for whom, when so clearly the language of rights has failed to provide the mean for struggles, since fewer and fewer institutions are enabled to capacitate and to defend capacitation, and more and more ‘rights’ become signifier to be appropriated by extractive practices and enduring racial dispossession. Politics, read by Ash at the intersection of urbanity and justice, both as a project to be carried through and an agent of action – a proposition that, for Ash, has to deal with economic, ecological and social structures but requires attention to how these are a matter of multiple agencies (human, non-human, infrastructural, atmospheric) providing much social flesh – disempowering but also affirmative social flesh – to work with.

My intention today was to tell you how much Ash’s quest for a politics for the just city affected my intellectual journey and to point out how his writings – sometimes appearing perhaps disparate and concerned with too much – are instead held together by a profound commitment to social justice with a precise orientation. The project is to unpack the social beyond the pastiche of canonical sociological thinking while simultaneously maintaining a commitment to crafting socio-geographical imaginaries and methods that might be useful, directly appropriated, and put into action. But the more I have tried to write such a text, the more I confronted myself with the meaning of this exercise – the performative act of marking retirement, as I said earlier.

And so I scrapped what I had written, I trashed the ideas and the notes, and I instead wrote a text message to my dear sister Tatiana Thieme and, through a short exchange with her, I got the confidence to say what I really what to say; to affirm what I think today should be all about. My dear audience, that is simple. Today is just an illusion. You, all of you, called out of your busy academic and non-academic lives, you who have taken time off to come into this room to ‘celebrate’ and to ‘perform’, you, my friend, are no more and no less guests of an illusion, because today, I hope the might Cambridge University won’t mind, today, we are retiring no one today. Because if I may accept the fact that, after today, Ash will have more time than ever to chop his fingers in his beautiful garden, I shall not accept the option of retiring the energy of which I spoke, the intellectual burst with which he faces you every time you talk to him, as well as that questioning look of his, which makes immediately apparent to you when you haven’t done enough work, but also those same eyes running places in those rare occasions in which you might have said something he hasn’t already thought of.

No retirement today, no festivities, everybody goes home. Without please, and without excuses. We are just asking Ash to perform again and again because love for intellectual labour is so much needed today more than ever – at times in which your sad country is so clearly detaching itself from its ground and will sooner or later entirely collapse, while mine dances the swing of nationalism and fear once again, and the affect of militarisation wraps all of us together, like a cloth tight on our necks and eyes – tighter for some than others, but increasingly suffocating for the many. It is a violent image; I am conscious of that. A violent image to render the fierce powers of international financial capitalism, authoritarian pursuits, war industries and reactionary tunes, turning our dwelling on planet earth as real and felt, genuine dystopian, Land of Strangers. What is needed to cut through such a violent cloth is a multiplicity of grassroots political struggles – but the latter, to be imagined, require the labour of intellectual unrest – a labour that to speak truth to power needs to be fulfilled by a desire not to be satisfied, by any explanation, ever. To teach of this thirst in our classrooms, to write on such emancipatory affect in our papers and books, to be constantly unsatisfied and to be recharged through that — this is what Ash’s works speak of; this is what he has taught me with his silences, his nods, his sometime incomprehensible fabulations, and this is what today we are not going to retire.

I remember well the first time I arrived in the UK. It was September 2008, and I was due to commence my PhD at Durham. I landed at Heathrow, which was my first time in the country. When there, I passed through the usual duty-free shops, waiting for my connecting flight to Newcastle. To have the chance to relate to what follows, you have to know that I grew up in a tiny rural village in the North West of Italy, in a working-class family. My father, now retired, was a factory worker at FIAT, and my mother a cleaner. Becoming an academic was not in the plan, and neither was, to be honest, completing the entire cycle at Uni. I benefited from the scholarships offered by the Italian Public Education system, and from the fact that Italy is filled with Pizzerias where a waiter is always well accepted. I kept doing multiple jobs up to the end of my PhD, and it is only thanks to Ash’s and my former MA supervisor Francesca’s efforts to mobilise funding that I was able to carry the PhD through completion. But this is not what I want to focus on.

The point is that when I was waiting in Heathrow for my connecting flight to reach Ash at Durham University, I ended up buying two things. Well, I proudly and decisively bought two things. The first was a Paul Smith’s wallet. The second was a Paul Smith keychain. Of course, these were unnecessary and foolish purchases. Of course, in buying those two things, I wasted the money I had saved for many weeks of subsistence (Tesco baked potatoes and beans came to help). And, of course, luxury is evil and should be banished. But also, and at the same time, seeing from the eyes of that working-class kid with totally broken English and zero ideas about his new life, those in the Heathrow candy shop were the only possible purchases. Those purchases were a way for that kid to tell himself that things were going to be different. It’s easy, now, for me and all of us to laugh at that – and to see how problematic that was. And yet, it happened, and those two things are still with me to date, 14 years after my first landing in the country.

I thought that the keychain was the right gift for you, Ash, which is why – while I am still holding onto my wallet – I am giving it to you today. For keys are the object of home, and homing, homelessness, dwelling, inhabiting, and belonging are at the core of our shared interests. But partially, also, because you gave me keys, real ones, when you pushed me to read all those books, when you asked me to write all those essays in the first year of my PhD, and then, after, when you invited me to go back at the drawing board when things did not make sense and, most importantly, to go back there when they made too much sense. The keys you gave me will stay with me for more than 14 years. And so, to celebrate your non-retirement, for all the openings that you will offer to scholars of the future, through your direct engagement and your writing, here is my small symbolic gift for you: a warn, silly Paul Smith keychain figuring a colourful Mini car. Because sometimes the affective, as the political, can be carried through the most insignificant details.

Teaching new module on Geography, Theory & Practice in Turin


I am happy to begin teaching today on a new introductory module that I have designed, on Geography, Theory & Practice in Turin, with a focus on the colonial roots of the discipline, discussing critical grammars of genderised, racialised & uneven spatialities.
Looking forward to trying it out, and then to expand and share the syllabus in the coming years.
I am thankful to my dear friend and colleague Ana Vilenica for helping out with the preparation of this module. Program is below – cheers!



Geography, theory and practice

Programme and calendar 2021-2022


Michele Lancione, Full Professor of Economic and Political Geography



The course offers an introduction to critical geographical thinking, with particular reference to how it developed in the past decades in Anglophone Geography. The aim is to provide a concise, yet rich, introduction to a number of key concerns related to the critical understanding of space, place, scale and related processes. Key notions and approaches derived from political economy, relational spatial thinking, critical gender and race studies, political ecology will be presented and discussed. The course mixes frontal lectures with moments of in-depth reading of academic texts, as well as discussion of contemporary societal issues at the global scale. The final part of the module provides a glance at some of the most common qualitative research methods in Human Geography, analysing their ethical implications and the role of Academics (including students) in the (re)production of unjust spaces.


Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding. The students will acquire understanding of the main aspects of contemporary critical geographical thinking, its evolution and main debates. They will also acquire specific knowledge on debates related to urban inequalities, gender and racial injustice, critical relational thinking the use of qualitative methods in human geography.

Ability to apply knowledge and understanding. At the end of this course the student will be able to: analyse contemporary social and spatial phenomena intersecting multiple critical perspectives; they will be able to move within the international academic literature in the broader field of critical Human and Urban Geography; and they will acquire the basic skills set to write essays analysing contemporary social and spatial issue critically.

Autonomy of judgement. Students will learn how to question mainstream narratives related to key issues of our times including, but not limited to, uneven spatial development, entranced gendered and racialised violence, and the role of the Academy in both questioning and reproducing injustice.

Communication skills. At the end of the course students will acquire the basic conceptual grammar, in the English language, needed to investigate space and spatial processes critically.

Learning skills. Students will acquire the capacity to independently work with critical theories and methods in Human Geography.


Teaching modality

The course lasts 54 hours (9 CFU), structured along 10 weeks, including frontal lectures, seminars and workshops. Please note that sessions will be live streamed, but not video-recorded. Slides will not be shared, unless for students with proven learning difficulties.

The different sessions are characterised as follows:

· Core lectures (three-hour long each): To provide foundational understandings around critical theory and practice of geographical thinking

· Seminars (two and three-hour long each): Guided reading sessions, to offer the opportunity of engaging with key geographical writings and documentary taken from international scholarship. Seminars will be based on the provided key readings, and an additional reading list will be provided to students who are willing to expand on the subjects

· Workshops (three-hour long each): To reflect, on a workshop-style fashion, on contemporary news, using the conceptual toolkit offered by the course


Examination modality

For attendees

You are expected to read all key readings, suggested for each lecture, which will be discussed during the live seminars. Alongside what is presented during the lectures, the readings will serve the basis for the two components of your examination:

· A 1.500-2000 words written essay, which will count for the 30% of the final grade, to be focused on one of the themes explored in the course. The workshops will provide students with ideas on what to focus and on how to structure their essay

· An oral examination, which will count for 70% of the final grade, to be focused on the themes and literatures explored in the course


For non-attendees

You are expected to read all key readings, suggested for each lecture and to integrate those with the following text:

                     Cresswell, T. (2013). Geographic Thought. Wiley-Blackwell: London

Your examination will be focused on two components:

· A 1.500-2000 words written essay, which will count for the 30% of the final grade, to be focused on one of the themes explored in the course, on the basis of the readings suggested

· An oral examination, which will count for 70% of the final grade, to be focused on the themes and literatures explored in the course, as well as on Cresswell’s book



Program and reading lists


Please note: the list of readings below is a basic one, to accompany you into several key debates in the discipline. Further readings will be provided once you have chosen your topic of interest for the final exam.


WEEK I) For a critical geography of space

· Lecture – 4/10/21, thee hours – Introduction to the course; The colonial substratum of geographical knowledge; The birth of critical geography: on the capitalist production of space; Overview of contemporary critical spatial approaches

· Seminar – 5/10/21, two hours: Reading on capitalism and the production of space

Key readings:

Harvey, D. (1992) ‘Social Justice, Postmodernism and the City’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 16 (4): 588–601.

Massey, D. (1993). ‘Power Geometry and a Progressive Sense of Place’. In Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change, edited by J Bird, B Curtis, T Putnam, G Robertson, and L Tickner. London: Routledge.

Peck, J., and A. Tickell. (2002) ‘Neoliberalizing Space’. Antipode 34 (3): 380–404.


WEEK II) Thinking space relationally

· Lecture – 11/10/21, thee hours Postmodern and post-structuralist geographies; Relational geographies and political ecologies; Power and biopower; Affects, atmospheres, ontologies

· Seminar – 12/10/21, two hours Reading of place, bodies and power

Key readings:

Amin, A. (2015). Animated space. Public Culture, 27(2), 239–258.

Lancione, M. (Ed.). (2016). Rethinking life at the margins: The assemblage of contexts, subjects and politics. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group – ONLY the intro

Nash, C. (2000). Performativity in practice: Some recent work in cultural geography. Progress in Human Geography, 24(4), 653–664.

Philo, C. (2012). A ‘new Foucault’with lively implications–or ‘the crawfish advances sideways’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37(4), 496–514.


WEEK III) Uneven development

· Lecture – 18/10/21, thee hours  Understanding inequalities; Segregation, social justice, marginality, and banishment; Homelessness and the spatial construction of the ‘other’

· Seminar – 19/10/21, two hours Readings on marginality and racial capitalism

Key readings:

Caldeira, T. (2009). Marginality, Again⁈. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), 848–853.

Roy, A. (2019). Racial Banishment. In Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50th. Wiley-Blackwell : London

Thieme, T. (2013). The “hustle” amongst youth entrepreneurs in Mathare’s informal waste economy. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7(3), 389–412.

Wacquant, L. (1999). Urban Marginality in the Coming Millennium. Urban Studies, 36(10), 1639–1647.


WEEK IV) The spatial grammars of race and gender

· Lecture – 25/10/21, three hours Approaching ‘difference’ critically; Thinking dis/possession; Feminist and queer spatial grammars

Key readings:

Derickson, K. D. (2017). Urban geography II: Urban geography in the Age of Ferguson. Progress in Human Geography, 41(2), 230–244.

Hawthorne, C. (2019). Black matters are spatial matters: Black geographies for the twenty‐first century. Geography Compass, 13(11).

Kern, L. (2020). Feminists City. Verso: London and New York – ONLY the intro


WEEK V) Elements of geographical thinking: A global urban world

· Lecture – 8/11/21, three hours A critical approach to the urban; Urban grounds; Comparative urbanism?; Southern urbanism

· Seminar – 9/11/21, three hours Reading on feminist geographies (previous lecture), southern and global urbanism

Key readings:

Lancione, M., & McFarlane, C. (2021). Navigating the global urban. In M. Lancione & C. McFarlane (Eds.), Global Urbanism (1st ed., pp. 3–13). Routledge: London

Roy, A. (2011). Slumdog Cities: Rethinking Subaltern Urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(2), 223–238.

Simone, A. (2001). Straddling the Divides: Remaking Associational Life in the Informal African City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(1), 102–117.


WEEK VI) Elements of geographical thinking: Housing and the struggle for inhabitation

· Lecture – 15/11/21, three hours  What is ‘home’?; Eviction; Dis/possession; The 2008 ‘crisis’; COVID-19 and housing

· Seminar – 16/11/21, three hours Reading on geographies of housing and its struggles

Key readings:

Baker, A. (2020). From eviction to evicting: Rethinking the technologies, lives and power sustaining displacement. Progress in Human Geography, 030913252091079.

García-Lamarca, M. (2017). Creating political subjects: Collective knowledge and action to enact housing rights in Spain. Community Development Journal, 52(3), 421–435.

Fields, D. (2015). Contesting the Financialization of Urban Space: Community Organizations and the Struggle to Preserve Affordable Rental Housing in New York City. Journal of Urban Affairs, 37(2), 144–165.


WEEK VII) Elements of geographical thinking: Rioting, protesting, organising

· Lecture – 22/11/21, three hours  What is a ‘riot’?; Urban activism; Resistance and utopic geographical thinking; ‘Race riots in the US city’; ‘Housing unrest in the EU city’

· Seminar – 23/11/21, three hours Reading on geographies of struggle

Key readings:

Amin, A. (2003). Unruly Strangers? The 2001 Urban Riots in Britain. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(2), 460–463.

Askins, K., & Mason, K. (2012). Us and Us: Agonism , Non-Violence and the Relational Spaces of Civic Activism. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(2), 422–430.

Iveson, K. (2013). Cities within the City: Do-It-Yourself Urbanism and the Right to the City: Do-it-yourself urbanism and the right to the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 941–956.


WEEK VIII) Qualitative methods in-&-out

· Lecture – 29/11/21, three hours Cultural turn and the challenge of ethics; The craft of observation: Ethnography and geography; Visual cultures: approaching text otherwise

· Seminar – 30/11/21, three hours Reading on ethnographic writing, and then collective exercise on how to write an academic essay in Geography

Key readings:

Butz, D., & Besio, K. (2009). Autoethnography. Geography Compass, 3(5), 1660–1674.

Lassiter, L. E. (2001). From ‘reading over the shoulders of natives’ to ‘reading alongside natives,’ literally: Toward a collaborative and reciprocal ethnography. Journal of Anthropological Research, 57(2), 137–149.

Rose, G. (1997). Situating knowledges: Positionality, reflexivities and other tactics. Progress in Human Geography, 21, 305–320.


WEEK IX) What a geographer can do: the politics of geographical research

· Lecture – 6/12/21, three hours Encounters and representations; Participation, engagement, research-activism?; The undercommons;

· Seminar – 7/12/21, three hours Watching an activist-research collective documentary on racialised evictions in Bucharest, Romania and collective reflection on engaged research

Key readings:

Lancione, M. (2019). Caring for the endurance of a collective struggle. Dialogues in Human Geography, 9(2), 216–219.

Moten, F., & Harney, S. (2004). The University and the Undercommons. Social Text, 22(2), 101–115.

Vilenica, A. (2019). Becoming an accomplice in housing struggles on Vulturilor Street. Dialogues in Human Geography, 9(2), 210–213.


WEEK X) Preparing for the exam

· Workshop13/12/21, three hours Feedback on the course and planning for final essay

· Workshop – 14/12/21, three hours Planning for final essay



Recommended readings

The readings for each lecture, which are going to compose the basis for the exam, are listed above. Additional readings can be provided on each topic. The papers can be accessed in the course’s folder (link in the note below).

Additionally, for students who’d like to have a manual of reference (mandatory for non-attendees) they can refer to:

Cresswell, T. (2013). Geographic Thought. Wiley-Blackwell: London

CFP on the makeshifts of life at the margins @SIEF 2017


Martina Klausner (Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt-University of Berlin) and myself are organising a session on The everyday makeshifts of life at the urban margins at the upcoming International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) conference, which will take place in Göttingen (Germany) from the 26th till the 30th of March, 2017. I am very happy of working with Martina around this trans-disciplinary experiment between Geography and Anthropology. If you’d like for your work to be considered for inclusion in this session, please upload your abstract on SIEF’s website ( by the 07/11/2016. You will receive a notification from us before mid-December.

Here it is our CFP:

Cities with their specific density and intensity offer a variety of resources but at the same time also pose specific impositions for their inhabitants (cf. Schillmeier 2010; MacFarlane 2011). Dwelling in the city – understood as a non-linear way of place making and learning (McFarlane 2011) – demands dealing with those specific urban affordances in creative ways. This is specifically true for people “at the margins”, who assemble their everyday life at the intersection of public infrastructures – from welfare institutions, health care services, sheltered housing, sanitation, transportation – and more mundane matters. A focus on the makeshifts of life at the margin then highlights how bodies, infrastructures, and broader urban processes are being brought together in diverse ways. In our respective works we have approached these makeshifts as processes of assemblage (McFarlane, 2011; Lancione, 2014), infra-making (Lancione and McFalrlane, 2016) and of niching (Niewöhner et al. 2016). Drawing from our own research (which focused on people with mental illness in Berlin, homeless people in Turin and drug users in Bucharest) we want to elaborate on a nuanced approach to the makeshifts of life at the margins and specifically encourage contributions that help to identify convergences and divergences across different marginalised urban groups. Ideally, paper will critically address questions of lived experience and their entanglement with broader urban processes, such as urban policies, state regulation, or infrastructural developments.

AAG 2016 – The Dark Matter of the Urban

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Francisco Calafate-Faria and myself have put together a CfP for the next AAG in San Francisco, 29 March-2 April 2016. You find it below and a pdf can be downloaded from here. Feel free to submit and circulate. Deadline for abstract is the 20th of October. The sessions will be followed by a panel of leading scholars discussing ‘Urban Dark Matter’.

The Dark Matter of the Urban: Forces, densities, velocities, affects, and more.

Session organizers:
Michele Lancione (University of Cambridge, UK)
Francisco Calafate-Faria (Goldsmith University, UK)

Being-in-the-city means being caught up in a maelstrom of bodies, technologies, atmospheres, velocities, and both fixed and fluid elements that are not easy to pin down and understand. Although sociology, anthropology, and human geography have built up a substantial body of scholarship on the urban form – one providing insights into analytically manageable aspects of being-human-in-the-city (such as the economic, the cultural, and the socio-relational spheres) – much has been left out of the picture. In recent years, a new scholarship proposing a focus on urban change and process, and a post-human perspective on the city has contributed greatly to a more nuanced understanding of how cities are and how they become. Outlines of a new urban theorization are emerging from scholars interested in urban assemblages (McFarlane, 2011b; Farías and Bender, 2010; Jacobs, 2012), socio-technical infrastructure (Amin, 2014; Simone, 2004; De Boeck, 2012; Silver, 2014), and vitalist ontologies (Amin, 2007; Braidotti, 2011; Bennett, 2010; Lancione, 2016).

Yet, it seems to us that there is something about cities that escapes the grammar currently employed to describe them. The increasing number of conceptualizations brought forward to grasp urban articulations is a disquieting signal of the tantalizing slipperiness of the urban form. These include Simone’s ‘people as infrastructure’ (2004) and his more recent ‘generic blackness’ (forthcoming); Amin’s ‘animated space’ (Amin, 2015); Chattopadhyay’s ‘infra-structure’ (2012); Piertese’s effort to grasp the ‘unknowable’ of the African city (2013); Thrift’s ‘outstincts’ (2014); McFarlane’s makeshift notions of learning and dwelling (2011a); Gandy’s ‘cyborg urbanization’ (2005), and De Boeck ‘knotting’ (2015) – to cite just a few.

Instead of seeing these attempts as theorization detached from urban praxis, we understand them as concrete attempts to come to terms with what we cannot see, yet perceive; with what we cannot properly theorize, yet foresee; with a new politics of the urban that is largely undefined, yet urgently needed. This is what we are provisionally calling the ‘dark matter’ of the urban: a substance made of times, spaces, forces, densities, velocities, movements, encounters, processes, and affects that is still largely unknown if palpable, perceived, and imaginable. We derive the term from Nigel Thrift and his discussion of Bruno Latour’s ‘hidden masses’ of the social (Latour, 2005). As Thrift puts it, ‘the human world contains a vast hinterland of ‘dark matter’ or ‘plasma’ that we do not understand and of which we often only feel as echoes and intimations which we cannot scry’ (2014, p.4). To research the city is often an attempt to understand such forces, of which we can only, at first, grasp the effects. When we think about and discuss urban assemblages, circuits, networks or meshworks, composed of data (ibid), knowledge (Macfarlane, 2011), human labor (Simone, 2004), finance capital (Simone, 2010), circulating materials (Knowles, 2014), heterotopic waste technologies (Campos, 2013), or migrants and elusive cosmopolitan elites in Michael Keith’s description of the “new dark London”, we are attempting new dialogues that may help us grapple with real problems lived by real people in various cities and in the city as form and process. In this sense, ‘dark matter’ is not here, as in physics, a product of theoretical speculation and rational calculation waiting to be disproved or confirmed by empirical facts. Reversely, the ‘dark matter of the urban’ signals the possibility that there is something unknown and potentially powerful that escapes our current understanding of being-in-the-city, that can be assessed in close dialogue with the empirical. How can we grasp this matter and its potential? How can we think about and theorize it? What do we do to research and account for it? Can it be possible to use it to imagine a radical, alternative form of urban theory and politics?

With this call, we are seeking cutting-edge, provoking papers – of both an empirical and theoretical nature – exploring ‘urban dark matter’, even if not necessarily using this formulation. We particularly welcome contributions from radical feminist, LGBT, and southern perspectives, which are currently underrepresented in the new urban theory we rely upon. As Santos (2014) and others we believe in the epistemological potential of underrepresented viewpoints. Papers should cover one or more of the aspects listed below:

  •     The city as a repository of energies and forces
  •     Empirical case studies on forces, densities, velocities, and affects
  •     Empirical or methodological reflections on accessing hidden processes of urban becoming
  •     Feminist, LGBT, southern, and non-mainstream perspectives on ‘urban dark matter’ and new urban theory
  •     Methodological challenges of investigating ‘urban dark matter’
  •     Oppositional and radical understanding of ‘urban dark matter’ and its potential
  •     The politics of ‘urban dark matter’ (new political imaginings brought forward by investigating the urban through its hidden forces)
  •     Critiques of existing scholarship on urban theory
  •     New theorizations of ‘urban dark-matter’

We plan to organize a few sessions revolving around the above points, followed by a panel including some of the scholars cited (whom we will ask to provide insights into what they conceive as the ‘dark matter’ of the urban, using selected videos and photos as a springboard for discussion).

We also welcome presentations in non-traditional and participatory formats. Abstract selection will be based on relevance to the CFP, boldness, and quality of the proposal. Short papers or presentations of max. 3,000 words must be circulated two weeks in advance of the conference.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Michele Lancione ( and Francisco Calafate-Faria ( by the 20th of October. We will confirm acceptance by the 23th and we expect you to register and submit your abstract on the AAG website by the 26th (here:


Amin, A., 2007. Re-thinking the urban social. City, 11(1), pp.100–114.
Amin, A., 2014. Lively Infrastructure. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(7/8), pp.137–161.
Amin, A., 2015. Animated space. Public Culture, 27(2), pp.239–258.
Bennett, J., 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Campos, M. (2013), `The function of waste urban infrastructures as heterotopias of the city: narratives from Gothenburg and Managua in Campos and Hall (eds) Organising Waste in the City: International perspectives on narratives and practices. Bristol: Policy Press
De Boeck, F., 2012. Infrastructure: Commentary from Filip De Boeck. Contributions from Urban Africa Towards an Anthropology of Infrastructure. Cultural Anthropology Online, 26 November. Available at: <>.
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