Anarchist Geography at the AAG New Orleans

By Rebecca Croog and Sachio Ko-yin

This past spring we traveled from Philly to one of the largest Geographic gatherings in the world, the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year took place in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Over the course of five days, April 10th to 14th, speakers included both geographers as well as other scholars whose work touches on geographic themes. Some notable ones were Italian autonomist Marxist Silvia Federici, post-colonial feminist Ananya Roy, and Civil Rights sociologist Robert Bullard. Bullard’s story of collaborating with his wife in the 70s to use ‘kick ass sociology’ to challenge environmental racism was inspiring to hear, and stood out as a model for how social scientists and activist movements can collaborate for social change; something crucial for Critical Geography.

We attended a session hosted by anarchist geographer Simon Springer called “Ellisee Reclus and the Discovery of the Earth,” which consisted of a reading of a text by historical geographer John Clark, and responses. Two of the participants were co-founders of Radical Geography in the 1960s, Clark Akatiff and Kent Mathewson. The opportunity to talk to them about the early days of Radical Geography and to see how Reclus’ anarchism continues to inspire geographers today were high points of the conference.

On the last day of the conference was a memorial session in honor of the Black Geographer and New Orleans enthusiast, Clyde Woods, who passed away in 2011. As he was dying, he asked his fellow geographers to find the manuscript of his book, to finish and publish it. What followed was a treasure hunt to locate the original manuscript and collaborative undertaking of completing it in the spirit of his style and personality. This posthumous book, Development Drowned and Reborn, is an historical and regional geographic study of New Orleans, building up through the race and class crimes committed before and during Hurricane Katrina and the resulting programs of privatization and gentrification.

On the train trip back reflecting on the work of feminist and critical race geography, we also re-read Kropotkin’s “What Geography Ought to Be” with renewed inspiration for the work of anarchist geography and for bringing intersectional class analysis far more significantly into our future work

We also recalled sitting in the Sheraton Hotel lobby waiting for a thunderstorm to pass the day before, contemplating both the ivory tower structure and potential political power of social science scholarship. We look forward to more opportunities to break down the silo that has stored up the myriad tools of geography and equipping ourselves with them for the purposes of understanding global capitalism in the 21st century in order to radically transform it.

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