Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Digital Libidinal City: Part 2 – Jack Lowe

In responding to Alfie Bown’s observations on desire in today’s digitally-mediated cities, which comprised the first part of this Landscape Surgery session on The Digital Libidinal City, Jack Lowe used his discussion to focus on the relationships between digital technology and experience more generally within everyday urban life.

While much of the early scholarship on digital technology in the humanities and social sciences lauded the possibilities and dangers of ‘cyberspace’ and ‘the information age’, Jack proposed that the ‘digital turn’ in these disciplines arrived at a ‘sweet spot’ in academic exchanges. The critical scholarship of the 80s and 90s gave us the tools to dissect the representational power of digital media, while postmodern and post-structural approaches have helped us to make sense of the agency that digital media have within wider processes of societal function and everyday life. In particular, with the move since the turn of the millennium towards thinking about materialities and the post-human, research into digital technology has helped us become more aware than ever of how our lived experiences are shaped by our relationships with material things. Ultimately, Jack argued, this enables us to understand digital technology in context – as one agent within a wider field of human and non-human agents that assemble during our everyday experiences.

Turning to Alfie’s example of Pokémon GO, Jack discussed how studying this widely-played mobile game is useful for thinking about the geographical relationship between play and everyday life. While existing studies of the game’s geographies have largely focused on how the gameplay has changed practices of navigation, sociability and embodiment in cities (e.g. Evans and Saker, 2019; Apperley and Moore, 2019), much of the research on Pokémon GO focuses on what the game was like during the craze of summer 2016, despite the game having changed significantly since then.

Most impactfully, players have since been able to participate in raids, a very popular activity in which groups of players gather in designated locations at particular times, working together to defeat powerful Pokémon and ultimately capture them. Jack contended that geographers could fruitfully employ techniques of rhythmanalysis (Lefebvre, 2004) to examine how the desire to get a strong Pokémon influences the timelines of those participating, and their relationships with other players, non-players and their environment. For it is this intersection between the rhythms of everyday life and the timescales of raids where the game has often had the greatest impressions on the everyday experiences of players (and non-players), provoking users previously unknown to each other to organise themselves using social platforms outside the game, change their routines, interact with the mundane events happening at the raid location, and develop intimate connections (memories of past raids and friendships formed, knowledge of signal strength, etc.) with the locations in which raids take place.


Raid battles are time-limited events where players must group together to defeat powerful Pokémon.


A raid battle in progress on Pokémon GO. You can see other players’ monsters battling at the same time.














In relation to Alfie’s discussion of dating and food delivery apps, Jack drew connections with geographer James Ash’s (2015) work on interfaces. Ash’s research has explored the digital media used by payday loans providers, for example, examining how the affective qualities of app design features such as sliders and buttons can purposefully alter users’ experiences of them (Ash et al., 2018). Nonetheless, Ash and other interface scholars have been keen to emphasise that the ways these digital products are designed and used do not amount to straightforward manipulation, with the qualities of the experience depending on a number of contingent factors. Indeed, many people will be familiar with having used commercial websites owned by large companies that are frustrating to navigate; and accessing any digital services can always be curtailed by technology failures, or simple lack of affordability (e.g. of smartphones).

Furthermore, Jack emphasised the need to be nuanced in thinking about the different kinds of desire that can be fostered through various types of digital products. Not all apps and games are intended to foster, or result in fostering, deliberate patterns of consumption or generation of data for commercial and/or surveillance purposes. For example, media artists such as Blast Theory have experimented with these platforms to evoke experiences that question the ethics and affordances of digital technologies, as well as the social relationships that are mediated by them. Desire itself is a concept that encompasses a wide range of affective relationships that could be harnessed, for example, towards artistic, community-building and health-improving ends using digital media, and some could even provide methods of potentially subverting capitalist forces mediated by these technologies. Jack accepted, however, that such goals are always hindered by the detachment we experience from the working conditions through which digital products are made, and the lack of clarity regarding the ethics of how they are used.

To make sense of these nuances, Jack advocated for the value of ethnographic and autoethnographic research into the everyday geographies of digital media, so that we might perceive how they affect our lives at the level of experience (Duggan, 2017). Notably, he highlighted the need for more practice-based research in this area, where academics are actively involved in creating products using digital tools. This process can enable researchers to identify how each of their design decisions, as well as the affordances of the technologies used, influence the outcomes of the product being made for individual and collective experiences. In doing so, such research could potentially reveal the level at which these design decisions and technological affordances impact on our everyday behaviours.

Jack finished his response by drawing together three key questions that geographers might consider in relation to experience in digitally-mediated cities:

  • How can we as geographers critically examine the ways digital technology affects our everyday experiences and behaviours, both theoretically and methodologically?
  • How is power distributed in different kinds of digitally-mediated experiences, and what roles do space and place play in these relationships of power?
  • In line with aiming to adequately contextualise the production and experience of digital technology, how would we study and interpret digitally-mediated relationships in societies in the Global South, or across diverse communities of people more generally?

This post is Part 2 of a three-part series based on The Digital Libinal City session. Part 1 featured Alfie Bown’s presentation on desire and digital media in contemporary urban life. Part 3 concludes the series with Megan Harvey’s discussion of the psychoanalytic dimensions of desire and its relationship with capitalist reproduction, dreamwork and subversion in the digital sphere.



Apperley, T. and Moore, K. (2019) “Haptic ambience: Ambient play, the haptic effect and co-presence in Pokémon GO” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 25(1): 6-17.

Ash, J. (2015) The Interface Envelope: Gaming, Technology, Power. New York and London: Bloomsbury.

Ash, J., Anderson, B., Gordon, R. and Langley, P. (2018) “Digital Interface Design and Power: Friction, Threshold, Transition” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(6): 1136-1153.

Duggan, M. (2017) “Questioning “digital ethnography” in an era of ubiquitous computing” Geography Compass 11(5). DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12313

Evans, L. and Saker, M. (2019) “The playeur and Pokémon Go: Examining the effects of locative play on spatiality and sociality” Mobile Media & Communication 7(2): 232-247.

Lefebvre, H. (2004) Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. London and New York: Continuum.


Written by Jack Lowe, edited by Alice Reynolds

The Digital Libidinal City: Part 1 – Alfie Bown

Our final Landscape Surgery session of the Spring term, The Digital Libidinal City, delved into the topic of desire and digital media in contemporary urban life. For this session we welcomed Alfie Bown, lecturer in the Media Arts department at Royal Holloway, author of The Playstation Dreamworld (2017) and Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism (2015), and contributor to The Guardian and The Paris Review. Acting as discussants for Alfie’s presentation were Jack Lowe and Megan Harvey, PhD students in the Department of Geography and members of the department’s Social, Cultural and Historical Geographies Research Group.

Seeking in his presentation to frame the smart city as the scene for relationships of love and desire, Alfie introduced his presentation by pointing to past representations of desire in the early Romantic literature, in which love is framed as a scene composed of objects arranged with semiotic significance in the urban environment. Unlike ‘love at first sight’, the love experienced by the narrators of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, is not a single moment of encounter between a subject and their desired object, but rather ‘love at last sight’ – the broader scene in which desire is activated.




In thinking about this scenography of desire, Alfie finds value in Roland Barthes’ work on semiotics, which examines how objects are organised into meaningful relationships that reflect wider cultural values. Alfie contended that desire in today’s digitally-mediated cities is evoked through the same process – through the arrangement of objects using interfaces, not just a singular association between subject and object of desire. Whether the desire is for a lover (e.g. Tinder, Grindr), food (e.g. Uber Eats) or something entirely fictional (e.g. Pokémon GO), the moment when this desire begins is the point at which a new relationship between the subject and implicated objects is formed – and increasingly these relationships are mediated through the digital technologies of smartphone applications, artificial intelligence (AI) and data profiling.

To illustrate his argument, Alfie presented three examples of contemporary smartphone apps that mediate this arrangement of objects using data, in an attempt to produce ‘desirable’ outcomes.

Replika is an AI chatbot that learns what the user wants in a friend by asking them a series of questions. Alfie explained that even if the user chooses to submit the bare minimum of personal information in advance, the chatbot can learn a great deal of personal information by offering the kind of helpful conversation that a supportive friend would provide, “a space where you can safely share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, memories, dreams”. Replika is consequently marketed as the “the AI companion who cares”.




Shapr is an app that uses LinkedIn data to suggest connections that could be relevant to your career. Its algorithm recommends 15 people each day that you may want to connect with, which users then swipe through to determine who they are keen to meet or not. If the interest to connect is mutual, users can organise to meet each other in person through the app’s messaging system. Through this activity, the app claims to help people “find inspiration and new opportunities” and “make professional networking simple, efficient and enjoyable for everyone”.

Lastly, Serendipity is an app that alerts the user when they happen to be near another person with a similar data profile. Based on the idea that there are only six degrees of separation connecting everybody on earth, the app encourages users to meet new people and find out who you know or what you have in common, so that you will “never miss a connection again”. Among other features, the app also allows you to track friends you are meeting with (if they are late), or those who are part of your group (if they are lost). All that is required for these services is for users to import all their contacts, and the app will do the rest.

These three apps, Alfie suggested, demonstrate the close interrelationship between objects of various forms that are represented through interfaces, and the desires that manifest in urban life today – for companionship and personal support, for making relevant professional contacts, and for expanding your network of friends and acquaintances.

While none of the outcomes of these three apps may seem particularly concerning at face value, Alfie warned that the purposes of digital media like these can easily expand beyond modelling and predicting user characteristics and actions, to actively manipulating their behaviours. While working in Hangzhou in eastern China, Alfie learned about the development of AI cars powered by Alibaba’s big data lab City Brain, which can respond to passenger needs. Not only do the cars use data generated by the user’s patterns of behaviour and language to tell you when you are hungry, but they can tell you exactly what you want to eat, taking you directly to the food outlet serving what you desire. This is an example of smart technology directly changing how users navigate the city and, most disturbingly, in a way that actively benefits one corporation over another.

Smart technology changing how we navigate the city is not a trend restricted to China’s smart cities. Alfie explained that Transport for London already has the technology to monitor where and when people are gathering, and could use these algorithms, and the data generated by passengers, to direct people along different routes using their journey planning services. Beyond applications that aim to move people more efficiently across the city, this technology could effectively play a role in, for example, preventing people from joining a political protest.

Elsewhere, manipulation of movement has entered the sphere of leisure activities. Alfie was in Hong Kong during the summer of 2016 when the hugely popular mobile game, Pokémon GO, was released worldwide. One Pokémon that was especially rare in those early months, Porygon, could only be obtained by visiting one particular shopping mall in the territory. With catching all the available Pokémon being one of the principal aims of the game, this meant that players were guided through the gameplay towards certain sites of consumption. Across many countries, this trend linking the mobile gameplay with locations of consumption has manifested through Pokéstops – in-game sites mapped onto physical landmarks where players can receive items in Pokémon GO – being sponsored by companies such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.


Trees Street Pokemon Game House Pokemon Go Lawn


Through these different examples, Alfie aimed to demonstrate how three seemingly disparate desires of contemporary urban life – Pokémon, food and lovers – all share the same qualities algorithmically and conceptually, in that the interfaces through which these desires are mediated can be structurally organised in ways that are open to manipulation, particularly when it comes to how people navigate cities. What makes this risk even more prevalent is that people today often implicitly trust digital services and big data to make the best choices for them.

Alfie struck a different chord at the conclusion of his presentation, however, by indicating that there are possibilities for resisting and subverting the algorithmic manipulation of desire. In another Chinese city, Shenzhen, where Pokémon GO is banned (as it is across the mainland), people with the technological know-how have found a way to play the game by layering the in-game map of New York – a city whose streets share a similar grid layout – on top of the map of Shenzhen. Due to the inevitable differences between the street layouts, players would embrace methods of navigating the city that are socially unacceptable and on occasions dangerous: reaching particular Pokémon spawns and Pokéstops by climbing over fences, walls and train tracks, alongside other forms of trespass.

Perhaps, then, there are still opportunities for desire to be harnessed as a tool for asserting what we individually or collectively want in our increasingly digitally-mediated cities.

We would like to thank Alfie for sharing his path-breaking research with a geographical audience, and for helping to continue the strong relationship between the Geography and Media Arts departments at Royal Holloway.

This post is Part 1 of a three-part series based on The Digital Libinal City session. In Part 2 we will feature Jack Lowe’s response to Alfie’s presentation, which focused on the relationships between digital technologies and everyday urban experience, particularly in the form of video games and apps. Part 3 concludes the series with Megan Harvey’s discussion of the psychoanalytic dimensions of desire and its relationship with capitalist reproduction, dreamwork and subversion in the digital sphere.

Written by Jack Lowe, edited by Alice Reynolds

Minor Theory: A workshop with Thomas Jellis and Joe Gerlach

For our third Landscape Surgery of the term, we were delighted to host visiting speakers Dr. Thomas Jellis, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford and Research Fellow at Keble College, and Dr Joe Gerlach, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Bristol, who put together an engaging workshop to discuss the growing necessity to reinvigorate geographical dialogues with the ambiguous investments of minor theory.


Part one:

Keen to establish an agenda from the outset, Thomas foregrounded the conversation by dissecting certain perceptions of theory that have developed in the study of Geography of late. Central to this argument stands the impression that human geographers have begun to express a deep scepticism towards conceptual work. A somewhat surprising notion given the on-going explosion of theoretical engagement that rings throughout the scholarly field. For Thomas, this scepticism is couched within a general feeling that hegemonic and widely cited bodies of theory are becoming overstatements or parodies of the issues they were originally devised to overcome. For others, he suggested, there is a fear that the discipline has become so engulfed in faddishly adopting and critiquing the work of mainstream theorists that we have begun to take all theory (namely Major totalising theories “bent on mastery” (Katz 1996: 488)) for granted.

Or perhaps more problematically, the issue lies in a focus on the ‘wrong kind’ of theory, meaning we are now drowning in an abundance of work which fails to coherently shape politically robust and passionate senses of the world around us. Particularly at the expense of gendered, racial, class-based and LGBTQ+ accounts. With these vehement concerns in mind, Thomas critically questioned whether we have exhausted all working parameters of credible theory, leaving us at an awkward stalemate of doing theory purely for the sake of theory.

If this diagnosis is true, what does this mean for theory as a whole? As a discipline, are we now suffering a disengagement with theoretical work because it is seemingly impractical, impenetrable, and politically inflexible? Or does this position give us more incentive to recapture and reclaim theory, forcing us to think beyond impact and to reshape how concepts are used so they cannot be reduced to the stagnation of stability?

More decisively, Thomas deliberated what these concerns have to do with minor theory. His answer put briefly- everything.

Whilst this is undoubtedly an intimidating prospect, we cannot begin to unpack this claim without revisiting our elemental understandings of the minor. Following Thomas and Joe’s own work on micropolitics and the minor (Jellis and Gerlach 2017), we can begin to comprehend the minor as an innately ambiguous assemblage that teeters along the edge of knowing, allowing it to avoid the constraints of definitive conceptualisation. As a basis, we should appreciate that “both the micropolitical and the minor cannot be allied to any particular scale or register of significance” (Jellis and Gerlach 2017: 564). Alternatively, as uncertain as it seems, we need to view the minor as uncommitted or unbound to any political spectrums. “If anything”, they write, “the minor ‘demands a ‘letting-go’ of the left and the right as political axioms, as much as it requires an abandonment of the affixation of labels ‘radical’ and ‘critical’, imposed by way of intellectual vogue. Instead, micropolitics and the minor are always, already present; it is what one makes of it as a mode of action that matters. Part of this mode of action is, simply, to ask awkward questions’’ (Jellis and Gerlach 2017:  564).

Offering further clarity, Cindi Katz aimed to push the threshold of what constitutes the minor by pondering how it could be apprehended as a tool to both expose and debunk the major.  Put briefly, Katz (1996) comments that the minor does not exist merely on the peripheries or in total opposition to the major, but fundamentally offers different ways to work with theoretical material. This is largely because the minor is not about naming or labelling something as solid or definite, but rather is about engaging with a language or vocabulary that feels uncomfortable and unsettling, making the minor an unstable form that is both “relentlessly transformative and inextricably relational” (Katz 1996, p489) to the major, rather than its direct antonym. For Thomas and Katz (1996) alike, there is enormous power in this relationship, allowing us to re-work, re-structure and re-negotiate the major from within, without wholly dismantling it.

Certainly, many scholars over the years have similarly tried to navigate this tumultuous terrain, producing new and eclectic retorts to popular bodies of theory that assertively demand we problematise the normative. Non-Representational Theory (NRT), for instance, critiques mechanic theories that have the inability “to do anything other than hold onto, produce, represent, the fixed and the dead” (Harrison 2000: 499), meaning that they fail to “apprehend the lived present as an open-ended and generative process”. Dewsbury et al. (2002: 438) similarly suggest that such approaches ultimately drain the vitality of the world around us “for the sake of orders, mechanisms, structures and processes”. Expectedly then, leading NRT thinker Nigel Thrift (2000) stresses the need to abandon the embalming fascination of believing theory is capable of fabricating totalising solutions and answers. Therefore, rather than seeking worldly explanations from theory, we need to consider new ways of experiencing, observing and practicing the “responsive and rhetorical” (Thrift 2000, p223) realm of encounter, and in order to do so, we must view all theory as a toolkit or supplementary resource that helps to co-produce the world, rather than exclusively rationalise it.

Isabelle Stengers’ equally provocative work with the minor contemplates the linguistic frictions that arise when dealing with theoretical abstractions and propositions. For Stengers (2008), theory often falls into the trap of ‘adequacy’, in which our ideas or perceptions are inherently shaped by inhibiting linguistic interpretations. Her resolution is not to apprehend experience as devoid of interpretation, but to redesign language in such a perplexing and disarrayed manner that nothing can be entirely defined by a specific noun or adjective. As such, theoretical abstractions for Stengers (2008: 95-6) “are not ‘abstract forms’ that determine what we feel, perceive and think, nor are they ‘abstracted from’ something more concrete, and, finally, they are not generalizations”. They are “lures” enticing our attention “toward something that matters, vectorising concrete experience […] to induce empirically felt variations in the way our experience matters” (Stengers 2008, p96). Resultantly, luring abstractions (propositions) act as a mode of the minor. They are theories in the making that are not bound to unbending binaries of ‘true’ or ‘false’, or even ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because they are not entrapped within the judgements of language. Propositions are therefore novel theories always under construction, that critically have the potential to collapse thought patterns, individual feelings and more ferociously; social order (Stengers 2008).

To summarise this section of the session, Thomas highlighted a common denominator in the semi-tonal shifts that aim to rework the language of the major, allowing for reconciliations and apprehensions of the ways in which we encounter the trajectories of life to become fully realised. Considering this, it is evident that the minor is always interlaced within the fabric of the major, disrupting its standardisation and questioning its seemingly stable structures. As the minor’s inert instability courses through the major, resisting crystallisation and oscillation, we are forced to interrogate the rigid political axioms of representation that the major aims to preserve. In essence, the minor is perhaps best understood as a moving target that collides with, congeals, and rearranges our geographical imaginations. It insists on deterritorialising a spectrum of universal truths presented to us by the major, and offers a chance to decolonise our thoughts, senses and articulations of the world in ways that cannot be anticipated. Perhaps a consequence of Thomas’ evident passion, or indeed the minor’s own capacity to dislodge prior judgements, it is evident that a minor theory has radical potential that is too important to be ignored.


Part two:

Before leading onto the closing conversation, Joe and Thomas prepared a workshop task designed to play on the notion of a ‘Landscape Surgery’. Presented with a collection of fragmented and detached statements about the minor, the session convenors asked us to collectively and forensically recompose our own diagnosis of the minor, for the minor. Joe and Thomas then asked us to write a postcard of our final assemblage and address it to someone or something. This assignment saw a number of expressive outputs from our surgeons, from postcards addressed to Freud and the RGS, to more tangible dismemberments and reconfigurations of the collection of snippets offered to us. Below lie a few examples of our surgeons’ efforts:


Part three:

In the final discussion, Joe took the opportunity to offer some further thoughts on the composition of the minor in relation to thematic geographic concerns. Echoing earlier conversations, Joe reinforced the view that the minor does not derive from its essence, but comes from the act of minoritizing, and whilst the push to minoritise is becoming increasingly urgent, neither he nor Thomas is certain of what actually it looks or feels like. Their goal, nonetheless, is to contemplate biography, fieldwork and ethics in order to begin to trial new ways of doing minor theory in practice. Of course, to outline a manifesto would be entirely oxymoronic, as once the ethos of the minor is sedimented within strategy it loses the potency of its desired resistance. Instead, this segment sought to pitch several loosely bound techniques of minoritisation that amplify the minors disruptive micropolitical affectivities.



For Joe, biography and geography are indivisible notions. On the surface, their prefixes are similarly rooted within some kind of worlding, a coming together of life, being and earth. But they become even more inseparable when their theorising becomes composed within the minor. However, as Joe commented, it is difficult to write a biography in a minor tenor, particularly when the passions and indifferences of life become swallowed in the oscillating macropolitical experiences of intensity and monotony- an erroneous pitfall that many authors have succumbed to. Joe singled out the epitaph’s suspiciously vivid plot, suggesting the temptation of reputation and fame often surpasses rectitude, but all is excused as nothing is ever as it truly seems anyway.

So how can we allow the minor to apprehend biography? Can we alter the pathways of these (ropey) life-stories to make way for minor lines of flight?

Following Guattari’s (2012) psychoanalytical work, Joe argued that we can try to write a minor biography by staging a series of spatially and temporally fragmented accounts of inexplicit encounters that narrowly avoid the threshold of consistency. Through doing so, we can suspend biographies in a limbo of sorts, a space devoid of taxonomic distinction between the virtual and the actual, the real and fiction – a flamboyant schizoid style that decentres the biographer with intent to disrupt the status quo (Guattari 2012). As Joe indicated, such an approach allows biographies to become stories of existence that aren’t merely the colourful tales of a single author, but hijacked encounters that are strung together through a collective resonance of an event (Manning 2016). The force of a minor biography is therefore highly unstable and its trajectories uncertain, reified only by its relation to other bodies, objects, sensitivities and energies.



For Joe, all fieldwork is bound into major structures of application, empiricism and impact, leaving opportunity for a minor fieldwork meditation to critique the problematic nature of empirical work more generally. Non-representational geographies for example, have sought to expand the parameters of what counts as empirical fieldwork by playing between the boundaries of reality and representation, although Joe admits that this has gotten somewhat lost in the asphyxiation of the theory into brand name ‘NRT’. Alternatively, Didier Debaise (2009) aimed to liberate the terms ‘impact’ and ‘applicability’ to ponder what they might mean under speculative or minor empiricisms. Here, Debaise (2009) suggests that the contrived nature ‘applicability’ places not only a heavy burden on fieldwork to account for the all-encompassing epistemologies of experience, but also increases the relational aperture between subjects and objects. Resultantly, he urges the need to move away from a vocabulary of ‘applicability’ to one of ‘adequacy’. This does not pertain to commenting on the competencies of fieldwork to accurately testify experience, but to the pragmatics of thought, thinking and theorising that occur in experiential fields during empirical work.

By tuning into these subtle variations in experiential and elemental conditions, Joe hinted that the minor can become foregrounded as its own unique methodological technique. As such, minor fieldwork is less about identifying a particular category or case study to investigate, but about detecting the minute folds in our existence. For Joe, minor fieldwork is therefore pivotal in conceptually energising, enlivening, and charging the dimensions and details of the world. As ever, the minor in this geographical motif is not about mastery, and will not add any clarity to empirical work, but instead intervenes with and valorises the meaning entrenched into all aspects of fieldwork encounters.



Ethics served to be the most problematic of the three geographic concerns to minoritize for Joe, as its stubborn political contexts seem to ardently reject the minute tonal shifts exerted by minor energies. Keen to probe the plasticity of this resistance, Joe sought to examine the frequently coupled tropes of morals and ethics that have become something of a well-established obligational concern within social scientific ethical fields. Ethics, he argued, shouldn’t be about willing or controlling certain events to happen smoothly, nor is it about resenting lapses in their ability to adhere to expectations. Instead, ethics is about building certain ontological capacities through the performance of bodies, spaces, temporal zones, geographic imaginations and embedded histories that exist within ethical contexts of an event.

As such, minor ethics relates to post-humanist thought because it speaks to the anthropogenic concerns of ontological vitalism. In this sense, it would be comfortable to construct a minor ethics that contemplates the willing of events expressed via the affective nodes of the human body, anticipating how this affectation subconsciously predisposes, and on some level controls, the outcomes of ethical procedure. Yet, a minor ethics is one of composition, a coming together of multiple sensitivities, tangibilities and sensibilities, and whilst a somatic speculation of an event is necessary, it paints an incomplete picture of the minor’s capacity; silencing the importance of value when aiming to disrupt major ethics.

In a return to earlier claims to resist the major’s totalising mastery of theory (Katz 1996), Joe argued that we must abandon popular theories that hold concepts hostage in suffocating hierarchies of value, and instead use a minor ethics to reassess the transformative coupling of ontology and judgement (Hemmings 2005). Indeed, as Brian Massumi (2002) hints, we need to move away from the ecologies of power produced within political and economic domains that necessitate a quantitative relation to value, and now focus on the affective force of value regardless of how unsettling it may feel. Value should therefore be about attuning our registers to the elemental – the aesthetic and the atmospheric qualities of ethics – rather than its assumed agency and power (Engelmann and McCormack 2017).


In an attempt to summarise this deeply provocative surgery, Thomas and Joe suggested that the minor should be thought of as a ‘productive paradox’; a working methodological and theoretical practice that seeks to mainstream the minor whilst simultaneously minoritising the mainstream. Importantly, a call for the minor is not about imploring temporary engagements within dominating bodies of work, nor is it about soliciting haphazard cosmetic overhauls of their theory. For Thomas and Joe, an embracing of the minor is about shifting the mechanisms of the major to conjure new articulations, imaginations, languages, and possibilities for the discipline of Geography. Certainly, the analytic dimensions of the minor must be practiced, its nebulous style rehearsed through extensive performance to allow for the dubious politics of the major’s totalising universalisms to be questioned. After all, as Joe romantically postulated, minor flourishes have the capacity to change the shape of the universe, and as a discipline it is crucial that we are well equipped for major ruptures inevitably caused by the minors’ cosmic waves.


We would like to extend our warmest thanks to Thomas and Joe for sharing their critical work with the minor with us, and for creating a surgery that was both engaging and insightful. We wish you every success for the forthcoming release of ‘Why Guattari? A Liberation of Cartographies, Ecologies and Politics’ as seen in the image below (Jellis, Gerlach and Dewsbury 2019).




Debaise, D. (2009) The Emergence of a Speculative Empiricism: Whitehead Reading Bergson. Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson, pp.77-88.

Dewsbury, J., Harrison, P., Rose, M. and Wylie, J. (2002) Enacting geographies. Geoforum, 33(4), pp.437-440.

Engelmann, S. and McCormack, D. (2017) Elemental Aesthetics: On Artistic Experiments with Solar Energy. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(1), pp.241-259.

Guattari, F. (2012) Schizoanalytic cartographies. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Harrison, P. (2000) Making Sense: Embodiment and the Sensibilities of the Everyday. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18(4), pp.497-517.

Hemmings, C. (2005) Invoking Affect: cultural theory and the ontological turn. Cultural Studies, 19(5), pp.548-567.

Jellis, T. and Gerlach, J. (2017) Micropolitics and the minor. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 35(4), pp.563-567.

Jellis, T., Gerlach, J. and Dewsbury, J. (2019) Why Guattari? A Liberation of Cartographies, Ecologies and Politics. Routledge.

Katz, C. (1996) Towards Minor Theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 14(4), pp.487-499.

Massumi, B. (2002) Parables for the virtual. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stengers, I. (2008) A Constructivist Reading of Process and Reality. Theory, Culture & Society, 25(4), pp.91-110.

Thrift, N. (2000) Afterwords. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18(2), pp.213-255.


Written by Megan Harvey, edited by Jack Lowe, Alice Reynolds and Ed Armston-Sheret.