bodies & politics:
an editorial introduction
What is the significance of the body in the present political moment?
This is the question that inaugurated the 2021 issue of you are here: the journal of creative geography. This question emerged from a confluence of events in 2020, events that lent renewed urgency to questions of the body, embodiment, and politics. As the coronavirus spread around the world, bodies — and their proximities and mundane interactions — became a source of contagion and a newfound threat to life. Following the murder of George Floyd and countless others, streets around the world filled for months with protestors chanting “I can’t breathe” — pointing both to the lethal outcomes of police brutality and the suffocating, intergenerational trauma of being Black in an anti-Black society. A sharp rise in right-wing nationalism and xenophobia around the world returned borders and the “outsiders” they produce to the center of political and cultural imaginaries, dehumanizing those seeking refuge. Wildfires, floods, storms, and other moments in a building climate emergency displaced millions, with their impacts unevenly produced through the ceaseless reproduction of poverty, precarity, and the imperatives of capitalist economies.
In different ways, these moments all return us to the complicated fact of our embodiment — prompting us to consider and situate the body as a politicized and political space, one contoured by its uneven relations and entanglements with the wider world.
The contributions featured here represent a diversity of responses to the questions, problems, meanings, and potentials of bodies and politics. We hear from folks situated in geography, anthropology, urban studies, landscape architecture, cultural studies, science and technology studies, queer and trans studies, Mad and disability studies, women’s and gender studies, and other disciplinary locations, joined by photographers, filmmakers, creative writers, and poets. The locations of the contributors and the places they summon in their work span and connect sites around the globe. They coalesce around five themes that speak to the present political moment as viewed from the standpoint of the body and that organize this issue. While we have situated each contribution within one theme, many of the works speak to concerns that cross-cut these themes, underscoring the nuance the issue’s contributors bring to their creative engagements with the complex entanglements of bodies and politics.
In technology, knowledge & the state, contributors situate individual and collective bodies in relation to the authority and power invested in science and the state. They demonstrate the politics of diverse bodily entanglements, be it through the ubiquity of technology and surveillance in our lives, or the forms of classification and knowledge-making that underwrite colonial, patriarchal, and state projects. A common theme is that these ways of knowing, registering, and controlling bodies frequently fail to account for bodily difference, producing violences through erasure, standardization, and othering that are backed by data, techno-knowledge, and policy.
Bodies, environments & place explores how bodies inhabit various built environments and ecologies, inhabitations shaped by forms of displacement, belonging, exclusion, and in/visibility. Contributors examine the gendered, sexualized, classed, racialized, and ableist codes of urban space, reflect on the imbrication of ecological and social systems, and situate the body as a register of ecological change and a site for rethinking our models of collective life. Taken together, these works underscore the crucial role that geography plays in shaping the politics of the body.
Bordered bodies, (im)mobile bodies explores the contemporary landscape of immigration and state violence, the tightening of borders (both material and figurative), and the politics of transnational and transgender mobility. Contributors frame political borders not as stagnant lines on a map or as rigid conditions that can neatly dole out rights or inclusion. Rather, the borders in this section are lived — viscerally felt and experienced in the practices of individuals’ day-to-day lives. They are constituted in place as variously-bordered bodies contend with and struggle against infrastructures of militarized surveillance, colonial histories, and gendered expectations.
In identity, difference & relationality, contributors center themes of embodied difference, identity, and various forms of relationality — that is, how bodies connect, remain separate, are recognized, misrecognized, or unrecognized. Gender, sexuality, disability, and race/ethnicity inform these politics of belonging, recognition, and interdependency. While walking and running, caring and loving, speaking and being spoken to, the bodies in this section become entwined — unevenly — sometimes in relations of support and at other times relations of harm.
Embodied histories & futures situates individual and collective bodies in deep histories and lived genealogies while looking toward possible embodied futures. Contributors reflect on the archive and memory, generational trauma and sacrifice, and the reproduction of social norms over time. In doing so, they show how the body is historically made and history is made by bodies. In taking on the difficult task of looking backwards, these works find a balance between commemoration and critique. They also look toward other futures — ways of being, becoming, and relating beyond the inheritances of the past and the immediacies of the present.
Like the many you are here editors before us, our desire is that this collection will demonstrate the value and vitality of creative geographies. Taken together, we believe these works communicate the potential and the necessity of reaching beyond the boundaries of conventional ways of knowing, representing, and enacting our shared worlds.
A less lofty wish we had for this issue was to expand you are here’s engagement with online and digital creative mediums, and in doing so, to more fully integrate the journal’s print and online content. Therefore, you will notice QR codes on some of the pages in this print issue. By scanning these labels with a phone, you can quickly pull up extra video, audio, and digital content that is housed at youareheregeography.com. We hope that as you read the journal in your hands (or in your pdf viewer), you will be inspired to browse the creative content on our website as well.
Finally, we hope that this collection of works will spark conversations, theories, and experiments with embodiment and its politics — that it might illuminate the fundamental imbrication of our individual and collective bodies and the cultural, political, and ecological issues of our time, whatever places and positionalities we may inhabit.
Holding these visions in mind, we introduce you are here’s XXII volume: bodies & politics.
– Eden Kinkaid & Emma Lawlor