California State University, Long Beach
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Geography Hosts the Scholarly Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network

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A major international conference on how questions of space affect the social sciences and humanities arrives at CSULB on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 4 and 5.

The Department of Geography hosts the scholarly Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network as it examines how ideas about space are beginning to reach beyond the discipline of geography. The workshop will explore what drives this “spatial turn” and the tensions that turn generates in such issues as ethical responsibility, identity, militarism and belief.

“The decision to host this conference at CSULB demonstrates that our Department of Geography is an exciting and cutting-edge department at the forefront of many of the disciplines’ most important debates,” said conference organizer Deborah Thien, who joined the university in 2006. “This is not a department that just reads about contemporary debates. We are involved in making them.”

Thien also thanked College of Liberal Arts Dean Gerry Riposa, Geography Chair Vincent del Casino, and Provost Karen Gould for their support. “Thanks to their backing, we have a chance to really show our stuff to highly respected, international scholars,” she said. “But what is equally important is the opportunity to make connections with the Long Beach community.” Ken Curtis, vice president of International Education and Global Engagement and CSULB’s Center for Community Engagement have been instrumental in helping the Network make those links.

The conference actually begins on Sunday, Aug. 3, with a walking tour of the Malibu beaches led by the L.A. Urban Rangers. “This is a tongue-in-cheek tour intended to remind us that Malibu’s beaches are public spaces,” Thien explained. “It explores some of the dilemmas of space.”

The conference proper begins with a community forum at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, in the Long Beach Public Library. Panelists will include Goetz Wolff (Harry Bridges Institute, San Pedro, and UCLA), Gilda Haas (Strategic Action for a Just Economy, Los Angeles), and Laura Pulido (Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, USC).

On Tuesday, Aug. 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., an intensive workshop will be held on campus featuring keynote speakers Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of England’s Warwick University and UCLA urban planner Edward Soja. Also on tap will be John Paul Jones III and Sallie Marston (Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona), Keith Woodward (Geography, University of Exeter), Laurence Berg (Geography, University of British Columbia), Mary Thomas (Women's Studies and Geography, Ohio State University), and Liz Philipose (Women's Studies, CSULB).

One of the conference’s prime focuses will be how “radical” politics are being understood as new understandings of the spatial come to the fore. “What signifies and constitutes radical politics today?” asked Thien. “The Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network is very interested in looking at radical politics in particular spaces. For instance what does Long Beach see as radical politics? The network isn’t interested in telling people what radical politics are as much as they want to know how particular places practice and perceive them.”  

Student participation will be high, thanks to a connected class led by Thien and Del Casino. “It is an intense, directed course of studies that runs through August,” she explained. “We can’t stress enough what an important opportunity this is for our students to meet some of the leading minds in our field.”

Thien is optimistic about the conference’s potential. “Anytime you have this many world-class scholars get together, you have ideas challenged and research stimulated,” said Thien. “There are chances to collaborate. It is a brilliant opportunity.”