Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Topologies of Vulnerability and the Proliferation of Camp Life

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Topologies of Vulnerability and the Proliferation of Camp Life

Article excerpt

Abstract. An important theoretical insight in critical geography of late has been the conceptual reevaluation of space topologically, in a manner that moves us away from an insistence on topographical priority. Unlike topography that relies on fixity, placement, grounding, and mapping, topology approaches space as a matter of relationality, redistribution, layering, transformation, or virtuality. The camp has been a ubiquitous geographical figure of late-modern life that has been subjected to topographical representations and rationalities. Recently, we have been encouraged to rethink the camp as a series of topological relations between the potentiality of spatial conditions of power and the capacity of bodies to be captured by regimes of sovereign exception. This paper examines two theorists who have made the space of the camp intelligible topologically: Agamben and Butler. These theorists help us to understand that what manifests itself topographically is often the result of topological dispositions that invest bodies with various forms of becoming. Whereas Agamben's camp topology allows us to see how political power can be 'virtually everywhere', Butler extends this theorizing by being more open to the presence of differential regimes of exposure to vulnerability. In this manner, Butler still finds a use for some form of critical topography.

Keywords: topology, the camp, virtuality, camp life, vulnerability

Thinking space topologically

One of the most important theoretical debates in critical geography circles over the past ten years or so has been the conceptual reevaluation of what space is, means, and does. For some scholars, this has led to a move away from an insistence on topographical priority and, instead, towards new ways of understanding relations between geography and bodies in space in a topological manner (Jones, 2009; Massey, 2005; Murdoch, 2005; Whatmore, 2001). To think space topologically is to appreciate space not as fixity, placement, or grounding, but as a matter of relationality, connectivity, distribution, assemblage, transformation, or supplementation. Unlike topography that insists on identifying, marking, representing, and often essentializing a definite landscape or territory and that, typically, provides cartographic figures that enable us to 'orient' ourselves, topology does "not map discreet locations or particular objects" (Belcher et al, 2008, page 499). Topology points to the potential that spatial inscriptions or territorial markings have to extend meaning beyond their material or referential boundaries, something that, as Elden has shown, might always have been the case with the notion of territory (2013). Topology reveals such markings not as essentially given, but rather as geographical interventions that impose limits to spatiality by privileging certain positions between subjects and objects in both time and space. Topology points to relations between objects and subjects that do take place in space and time, but whose particular placing is often a forced or arbitrary (topographical) ascription to a modality of representational power. As Giaccaria and Minea (2011, page 4) put it, a topographical representation is about a "reduction of reality to the coordinates" privileged by a given spatial measure or scale. By contrast, a topological apprehension points to what is beyond the domain of "a strict and violently implemented regime of rational spatiality" (page 4). Thus, looking at space topologically, one sees a resistance to this forced or arbitrary inscription, to violent regimes of spatiality, or indeed to 'geo-graphing' (O Tuathail, 1996; Sparke, 2005). As a result, a more open field of spatial relations can emerge that gives us an understanding for the repressive, but also hopefully expressive, destabilizing, and critical potentialities of power in/as space. To use Blum and Secor's phrasing, a "more-than-topographical" (2011, page 1045) domain can be made available through which one can start to catch a glimpse of political and cultural possibilities that are emergent for bodies-in-space. …

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