New publication: on geography and negativity

by thomasdekeyser

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the ideas of vitalism, affirmation, and affirmative politics over the last few years. In particular, I’ve been wondering about the often smooth transitions predicated from vitalist philosophies to a politics of affirmation. This paper, co-written with Thomas Jellis, is the culmination of these reflections. We trace the limits of ‘affirmationism’ – a privileging of the lively, novelty, experimentation and generosity – to examine the status of ‘negativity’. We ask: is there a besides affirmationism, and what might this entail for human geography?

The paper is available here.

Abstract: This paper poses questions on the possibility of styles of working besides “affirmationism.” The paper begins by defining negativity as a force or status of disunification, and traces how it remains closely associated with dialectics within Geography. The paper goes on to explore how the renunciation of dialectics has meant that negativity more generally has been rendered outside thought, with a concomitant uptake of an affirmationist ethos. Despite the promise of such work, there remains disquiet. What is omitted or elided in the uptake of affirmationism? Critiques, largely from outside the discipline, highlight how affirmationism privileges the lively and Life, novelty and experimentation, and the generous and generative in conjunction with a suspicion of negativity. We home in on and reflect on three ostensible limits of affirmationism: affirmationist vitalism, affirmationist politics, and affirmationist critique. We argue that renouncing dialectics does not entail, necessarily so, a concomitant abandonment of negativity. Indeed, we need to embrace attempts to think and act that elude, or dispense with, the propensity to affirm, making space for affects that are far from hopeful, for those becomings‐otherwise that do not increase capacities to act, or for modes of critique that refuse; in other words, for that which is besides affirmationism or simply “unaffirmable.” Crucially, however, we point towards the dangers of a simple (re)turn to negativity, preferring a steadfast refusal to settle these tensions.