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Spatial Anthropology – acknowledgements

Publication News Posted on 02 Jul, 2018 10:34:01

Spatial Anthropology is now published in hardback and e-book formats (paperback is due in 2019). Great to see it in print finally. Unfortunately, due to some shoddy production work on the part of publishers Rowman & Littlefield, the book is missing the acknowledgements section I submitted. I am informed that this will be rectified for the paperback version and future print copies of the hardback (and the e-book). But for the time-being, the acknowledgements that would have been included in the book had R&L done their job properly are as follows:


In reworked form, parts of this book have been reproduced from articles published previously. ‘Castaway’ (Chapter 3) appeared first as ‘The Rhythm of Non-places: Marooning the Embodied Self in Depthless Space’, in Humanities, Volume 4 (2015). ‘Stalker’ (Chapter 4) is based on the article ‘The Bulger Case: a Spatial Story’, in The Cartographic Journal, Volume 51 (2014). ‘Necrogeography’ (Chapter 7) was published as ‘The Cestrian Book of the Dead: a Necrogeographic Survey of the Dee Estuary’, in Literary Mapping in the Digital Age, edited by David Cooper, Christopher Donaldson and Patricia Murrieta-Flores (Routledge 2016). I am grateful to the publishers of these articles and to the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

The ideas developed throughout the book and the research projects around which much of the discussion is based stretch back over a decade or more, pretty much spanning the period that I have been living and working in the North West (although, living as I do in North Wales – and Anglocentrism aside – this regional descriptor has necessarily blurred edges). Accordingly, the people who have in some way or another had a hand in the shaping of the book’s contents – whether as interlocutors, colleagues, discussants, students, informants, sceptics, detractors, fellow travellers, sounding boards – are far too numerous to mention. However, I would especially like to thank Sara Cohen and Julia Hallam, colleagues in the Institute of Popular Music (School of Music) and Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool, with whom I worked closely on a series of research projects between 2006 and 2013. Many of the exploratory and formative incursions into what would only later acquire the name ‘spatial anthropology’ came about as a result of opportunities, and the intellectual freedoms they helped nurture, that were afforded me during this period of immensely collaborative research activity. Also, in addition to those who helped me secure permission to reproduce images (and to Rob Wright
for his captivating photograph of Stanlow Refinery included in Chapter 9), I am grateful to Andy McCluskey and BMG for generously allowing me to reproduce lyrics from the song ‘Stanlow’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a big thank you too to Paul Gallagher from the Museum of Liverpool for his help with this).

As the bulk of Spatial Anthropology was written during a period of research leave (February to September 2017) it would be remiss of me not to extend thanks to the School of the Arts and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Liverpool for granting me the requisite space and time to bring this project into fruition. I am grateful to series editors Neil Campbell and Christine Berberich for accepting Spatial Anthropology for publication as part of their excellent Place, Memory, Affect series. Lastly, I am, as ever, indebted to Hazel Andrews for helping me sharpen and refine my anthropological sensibilities, and for sharing the road (and the load) as we ramble and rove through this world of our making.

Les Roberts, March 2018.

Stanlow/Oil is the Devil’s excrement

Publication News Posted on 27 Jan, 2017 10:47:57

Currently working on a co-authored article (with artist David Jacques). This is for a forthcoming book, Practising Place, being edited by Elaine Speight. The abstract for our article is below. Above is the video ‘Oil is the Devil’s Excrement’ (David Jacques, 2016, 11m 46s).

Oil is the Devil’s Excrement: a confluence of trajectories

Les Roberts and David Jacques

In this chapter we sketch the dovetailing of ideas and critical interventions that have sprung from the politico-magical properties of oil. Ruminations on death, putrefaction, myth and geo-politics vie with those that take as their starting point the spatio-temporal rhythms of a petrochemical installation situated on the banks of the River Mersey. While each of these trajectories represents an invocatory response to the same diabolical putrescence visited upon the dying Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, founder of OPEC (a visitation that was to usher a final ‘dark night of the soul’), at the same time they carve out their own singular, yet intertwined pathways through the sump of critical terrain that probes oil’s dark sentience and socio-political burden. In the hands of Jacques we plunge headlong into the defecatory slipstream, anointing ourselves by way of immersion and infusion in a substance whose alchemical power lies in its capacity to tap and drill deep into the geological bedrock of the human soul. Roberts, on the other hand, skirts the perimeter fences of an industrial colossus that dwarfs the surrounding landscapes as commandingly as it harbours and secretes a (death’s) cargo that remains impenetrable: a secret that lies beyond the reach of those who can but yield to its gift. In this vein, the chapter sees Jacques set out the ground-work for a creative process whereby Alfonzo is envisioned through an interweaving of literary, scientific and mythical threads which link the quest for power and wealth with traditional stories of the ‘devil-pact’, interpreted as critiques of Capital by the Marxist Anthropologist Michel Taussig. By way of countervailing narrative, for his part, the chapter follows Roberts as he sets out, bricoleur-style, to weave auto-ethnographic yarns out of a process of immersive, site-specific engagement with Stanlow refinery in Cheshire. Conceived of as a form of pilgrimage, like Jacques, his quest is one bent on ritual invocation. Oil as foil, creatively, politically or as poetic license. Turning shit into gold need not be the preserve of the oil industry.

Marxism and Urban Culture

Publication News Posted on 06 May, 2014 16:57:18

The edited volume Marxism and Urban Culture has now been published by Rowman & Littlefield. The book is edited by Benjamin Fraser [executive editor of Journal of Urban Cultural Studies], and includes a forward by Andy Merrifield.

Further details of the book here

My chapter in the volume is ‘The Archive City: Film as Critical Spatial Practice’.

Chapter abstract: In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre describes film as an ‘incriminated medium’ (Lefebvre 1991; Roberts 2012a) that allows for, at best, only partial understandings of and engagements with the dialectics of urban space. If anything, for Lefebvre, film, like other visual media, distorts and fragments space as it is otherwise lived in the everyday. Insofar as the moving image, in all its phantasmagoric forms, is complicit in the reduction of cities to spectacular and virtual spaces of representation – a process described as the ‘cinematization’ of urban space (Abbas 2003; Roberts 2012a) – Lefebvre’s contention can be clearly evinced. However, at the same time it represents something of a broad-brush and un-nuanced dismissal of the role of film in terms of its capacity to mobilise more critical understandings of the dynamic and multi-layered spatialities of ‘the material and symbolic city’ (Highmore 2005). In this chapter I explore the scope for archive film imagery to prompt re-evaluation and re-imaginings of urban landscapes as spaces of ‘radical nostalgia’ (Bonnett 2009) where past and present are brought into dialogue and tension. As well as demonstrating the ways that archive film can function as a form of spatial critique (Keiller 2005), the chapter also sketches the outlines of ‘cinematic cartography’ (Roberts 2012b) as a hitherto under-developed mode of critical urban practice. Drawing on four years of research conducted in the UK city of Liverpool (Roberts 2012a), and considering archival film practices recently developed by film archivists in Bologna, I argue that by mapping and engaging with the ‘archive city’, film can offer a means by which the representational spaces of the past can be harnessed and mobilised as part of a wider Marxian politics of urban spatial practice.

Locating the Moving Image

Publication News Posted on 29 Nov, 2013 17:19:37

Locating the Moving Image: New Approaches to Film and Place, edited by myself and Julia Hallam, has now been published: