[URBANTH-L]CFP: Spatial Americas

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Fri Nov 17 23:45:49 EST 2006

From: George F. Flaherty <gflaherty at umail.ucsb.edu>

Call for Papers

April 19-20, 2007
University of California, Santa Barbara


A recent article in London's Financial Times (FT) warned its market- 
minded readers that the "plight of La Paz provides an illustration of  
how a city's unchecked growth can threaten stability."* The article  
went on to detail how El Alto, a "slum" city of 1 million located on  
a plateau above the Bolivian capital, disrupts business as usual not  
just with by now familiar complaints of "pot-holed roads, belching  
minibuses, street vendors and packs of stray dogs," but the radical  
spatial praxis of its inhabitants.

El Alto, the FT asserted anxiously, is the unruly space of urban  
militancy that has frequently brought international trade to a  
standstill with strategic roadblocks-the city sits squarely on all  
main roads leading to the airport and the country's interior- 
disrupting the flows of global (mostly foreign) capital. Furthermore,  
El Alto is the site of protests that have toppled two presidents in  
the past five years and propelled anti-capitalism candidate Evo  
Morales to power in December 2005, Bolivia's first indigenous head of  

It is no small irony then that El Alto translates to English as "The  
High" but also "The Halt." As the FT ascertained, it is El Alto's  
adjacency, looming over and dangerously supplementing the seat of  
government, which is worth noting, indeed worth pausing for.

"Spatial Americas" invites graduate students and emerging scholars  
(recent PhDs and junior faculty) in the humanities and social  
sciences to take such pause and present works in progress that engage  
space (both as material and discursive forms) and spatiality (the  
theoretical and tactical processes through which space is produced)  
in the Americas broadly defined: south to north, precontact to the  
present, or as part of a comparative study.

A principal polemic thrust of postcolonial theory to date has been  
the centrality of history-time and its mis/use-in the (re)production  
of both mastering and emancipatory narratives. But if, as John Berger  
suggests, "it is space not time that hides the consequences from  
us"** -in other words, space is so naturalized within the historical  
frame as to be inert if not outright duplicitous-then perhaps we  
should finally attend to space and spatiality of human being and  
becoming with the same criticality that has been lavished upon time.  
This has been the call of the so-called spatial turn in the U.S.  
academe, consolidated in the last two decades around the work of  
Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, David Harvey and  
Mike Davis.

For Americanists, neither this "turn" nor the Financial Times's  
alarmist report is much news. Space and spatiality have facilitated  
conversations across time period and case study for some time now,  
defining the converging fields of American and Latin American  
Studies. Religion, empire, commerce and natural disaster have all  
generated a rich palimpsest of spatial relations to investigate and  
to serve as nodes for hemispheric cross-reference.

This said, we still struggle to place the material and discursive  
aspects of space in a more meaningful dialogue. How are we to put  
them together methodologically-speaking? Space is too often treated  
either as something entirely concrete to be mapped and "explained,"  
or as pure mental construct, ideas about and representations of space  
flagged for their "significance." That space is not static and in  
fact constantly reproduced is often underestimated as well. But it is  
in this repetition that space is activated as a category of cultural  
analysis, leaving room for critique at its less than seamless  
joints.  "Spatial Americas" asks that its participants self- 
consciously attempt to work out in their presentations an  
architectonics for this dialogue between the material and discursive  
and envision spatial cultures critically.

Please send abstracts  (500 words or less) for a 20-minute  
presentation along with a short bio and contact information (name,  
affiliation, phone and e-mail address) to George Flaherty at  
spatial.americas at gmail.com by January 22, 2007. Authors of accepted  
papers will be notified by February 5, 2007 and must agree to submit  
a draft to their panel moderator by April 16, 2007.  Questions about  
the conference may also be directed to spatial.americas at gmail.com.

Conference website:


* Hal Weitzman, "Held to Ransom in the Sporadic Siege of the Bolivian  
State" Financial Times (September 12, 2006)
** John Berger, The Look of Things (1972)

"Spatial Americas" is sponsored by the UCSB History of Art &  
Architecture Department

George Flaherty
History of Art & Architecture
UC Santa Barbara

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