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Springer S. Spatial Delight and the Possibilities of Childhood

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Simon Springer - Spatial delight and the possibilities of childhood
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  thefew(others)ruletherest.Democracyinsteadcon-stitutes autonomy: Everyone rules himself/herself.Heteronomy is a condition in which the power of everyone to govern himself/herself has been alie-nated, expropriated by an organ, a few, an-other.Democracyinsiststhatpeopleneveragreedtosurren-dertheirpowerinthefirstplace.Thestatecannotlivewithout our desire to be ruled.To become democratic is to become adult; it is torule oneself, to struggle every day to be autono-mous. For Wallace, it is extremely hard to growup because we are afraid to experience this anxiety,we want to remain infants, to be passive, to be takencare of. He even suggests that this desire for the cribis stronger than any other desire, even stronger thanour desire to stay alive.Ipso facto, the first step for democracy isawareness by understanding that the addiction –  becoming-passive – is a problem. When people become active, they can radically increase their estimation of their own abilities. That people believe they are incapable of ruling themselvesand that there would be chaos without any hier-archical authority is the general agreement thatlegitimate power rests on. To say we are tooimmature for democracy and therefore we must be ruled by an oligarchy – that would be to curethe disease with the germ that is making us sick.Democracy and activity are, as Lefebvre says, ahorizon. They are something we aim at and struggletowards, a destination we want desperately to reach,eventhoughweknowwenevercan.Wecanneverbedemocratic, we can only ever be in progress of  becoming democratic. Democracy can only ever bethe struggle for democracy, the journey down a pathtowards more democracy, autonomy, and activity. Spatial Delight and the Possibilitiesof Childhood Reviewed by:  Simon Springer,  University of Victoria,Canada When I was a child I used to play a game, spinning aglobe or flicking through an atlas and jabbing downmy finger without looking where. If it landed on land I’d try to imagine what was going on ‘there’ ‘then’.How people lived, the landscape, the time of day itwas, what season. My knowledge was extremely rudi-mentary but I was completely fascinated by the factthat all these things were  going on now  . . .  It’s partlya way of imagining how things are for friends in other  places; but it’s also a continuing amazement at thecontemporaneous heterogeneity of the planet. . . .  And this is where space comes in  . . .  it is quite reasonableto take some delight in the possibilities it opens up.Doreen Massey (2005: 14) No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy,the kindness, and generosity hidden in the soul of achild. The effort of every true educator should be tounlock that treasure.Emma Goldman (1931/2011: 409)Let her go places that we’ve never been, trust and delight in her youth. Neil Gaiman (2011: n.p.) Mark Purcell’s (2013) latest book,  The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy  is a tremendously important political intervention that comes at exactly the rightmoment. As humanity collectively chokes on themiasma of the neoliberal present, wherein capital-ism has become explicitly punitive, the apparatusof the state has lost all false claims to benevolence,individualism has metastasized in the form of apathy and alienation, and the spirit of democracyhas been incinerated in the inferno of an ever-tightening security regime of militarism and fear,Purcell boldly sounds a clarion call to resistance.The oligarchies of oppression that deprive our free-doms, sequester our desires, and divide our commu-nities, while undoubtedly extremely powerful in thecurrent conjuncture, are not without challenge.Reflectingontheimportanceoftheorizingandprac-ticing democracy in a radical sense of autonomy,Purcell links his understandings of collectiveempowerment to a more relational and processualconceptualization of space. Viewing democracy asa forever-unfolding stream of becoming, it is in this 80  Dialogues in Human Geography 4(1)  by guest on May 25, 2014dhg.sagepub.comDownloaded from    protean and fluidic character that he finds a sourceof hope, an expectation of courage, and a promiseof delight. There is much to love about Purcell’s book and its vehement appeal to the constituent power of democracy as a living process of autono-mous organization. His optimism is illuminating,his writing lucid, his argument persuasive, and his passion infectious. Built upon the structures laid down by great thinkers like Henri Lefebvre, Jac-ques Rancie`re, Antonio Gramsci, Chantal Mouffe,Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guat-tari, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri, Purcellconstructs an argument that explores why democ-racy is not only our best hope for an emancipated future,butanaspirationthatspeakstothecollectivityof human experience. If we are to live together in theworld,thenwemustlearndemocracy,not asanasce-tic demand but as a joyful exploration. Purcelldoesn’t teach us how to do this so much as he allowsus to recognize that if we hope tobreathe life into thelungs of democracy, then we must be willing tolaugh, cry, howl, sputter, rage, giggle, wheeze,scream, and gasp for breath in our ambition for free-dom as we attempt, once and for all, to exhale thefumes of authority. It is in the exertion of this infi-nitelydemandingstruggle,andthe range ofemotionssuch action elicits, that the noxious haze of hierarchymay be cleared, replaced by an intuitive sense of democracy that settles deep down in the core of our  being to become the oxygen of our shared politics.Although I am thoroughly onside with Purcelland have no reservations in calling his book a land-mark text in contemporary geographical thought,I did have some trouble with Purcell’s concludingargument surrounding infantilization. I appreciatethe criticism that is being raised here and its partic-ular concern for the ways in which we must be col-lectively willing to take up the difficult task of self-organization and refuse the logic of a ‘wise’ or even‘omniscient’ authority thatostensibly knowswhatis best for people. Yet I can’t help but notice how theargument also risks contributing to ageist and colo-nialistconnotationsinasmuchasPurcell(2013:143)suggests democracy entails ‘a process of growingup’. Clearly the perpetuation of violent ideologiesis not at all his intent, but the discourse of colonial-ism in its construction of the ‘other’ as infantile had much to say about the lack of maturity of alternativesystems of organization, while there is a deeplyingrained authoritarianism that is imbued withinmany cultural understandings of age. To meet thedemandofdelightthatPurcellevokes, isn’tit neces-sary to trust in youth, to accept a childlike imagina-tion that demands possibility from what seems likeimpossibility? ‘Democrats are adults’, Purcell(2013: 144) tells us, ‘or at least they are engagingin a conscious effort to grow up, to become-adultand become-democratic’. Are children also notcapable of growing, learning, reflecting, and  becoming? Surely an adult has as much to learnfrom a child as a child can stand to learn from anadult. This is the message I take away from Ran-cie`re’s (1991)  The Ignorant Schoolmaster  , and suchegalitarianism is infused withinhis political conceptof   an-arkhe , ‘the assumption that anyone at all iscapable of taking part’ (Purcell, 2013: 68). The pre-supposition of equality that Rancie`re (1999) insistsupon, which cuts across age and education as muchas it does gender, sexuality, race, ability, class, eth-nicity, or any other category identity we can think of, is also an inextricable component of anarchistthought (Springer, 2014b). Thus, although gestured at in arguing that ‘Democracy presupposes anarchy’(Purcell, 2013: 64), a deeper engagement with theemergent anarchist geographies literature could have been useful here (see Rouhani, 2012; Springer,2012; Springer et al., 2012), as unfortunately thenotion of adulthood that Purcell wants to assign todemocracy contradicts his anarchistic formulation.Potentially more problematic though is that Pur-cell risks recapitulating the fraught notion that chil-dren aren’t capable of autonomy by reinforcing adichotomous reading of adult/child. The hiddenmarginalization of children has long been recog-nized in geographical scholarship (Matthews,2003; Philo, 1992; Ward, 1988), and given thatapproximately half of the world’s population isunder the age of 25, isn’t the very idea of ‘adult-hood’ itself an oligarchy of the sort Purcell dis-avows? And what of the artificial age boundary?This is clearly a relativist construction as there isno clear delineation of adulthood within most cul-tures, let alone one that is shared between them.So the line of division between child and adult Book review forum  81  by guest on May 25, 2014dhg.sagepub.comDownloaded from    becomes blurred, as indeed it should (Valentine,2003).Yetifdemocracyistobeunderstoodasapro-cess, a view I share very strongly with Purcell,doesn’t this also mean that it is an ageless phenom-enon? Democracy doesn’t exist in a transcendental plane that eschews temporality. This is a key mes-sage Purcell wants to impart in his readers, as herejects the end-state politics that conceives of democracy as a project that is achievable in someconcretized sense. Instead it is in the demand for temporality as a continuing unfolding that democ-racy’s agelessness becomes manifest. Of course,Purcell is not incorrect to suggest that the strugglefordemocracyisaresponsibility,buttherearemanyways to interpret and promote this idea and we can’tsimply discount children as agents of social change.A child is a political actor with as much constituent power as anyone else, a vital component to the inte-gral multitude that Purcell locates at the heart of democracy. ‘We cannot be led by oligarchy as wemove down the path towards democracy’, Purcell(2013: 145) fittingly contends, ‘We must walk thatroad ourselves. All of us together’. But isn’t thesametrueforchildren?Theydon’tlearnasaprocessof being taught, which is indicative of elaborate planning and manipulation to produce a particular condition, but rather as an outcome of uninhibited exploration, adaptation, and participation in mean-ingful settings (Holt, 1983; Illich, 1971).Look at the willingness of children to embracethe immanent and recognize difference not as a toolfor oppression but as part of the world’s kaleido-scopic beauty. Children live in the  now  whichenables them to think gloriously big and intrepidlyin favor of alternative modes that don’t alwaysresult in the intended consequence, but nonethelessoften resonate with glowing success. The momentsof ‘failure’ are crucially important too, not as para-meters that license anguish and dismay, but insofar as they point us toward new ideas, and the same istrue, I’m sure Purcell would agree, in our collectivequest to become democratic. Children can, of course, also be cruel, but this is a learned behavior,and it is one that we can collectively unlearn whenwe allow children the space and confidence toexplore their relationships unencumbered by pre-conceived notions of the normative and unchained from the shackles of authoritarian discipline. Inshort, there is an ontology to childhood that is fier-cely aligned to liberation, and an epistemology thatis all at once open to process, creativity, and inclu-siveness. Colin Ward (1978) argued that it isthrough the processes of play and imagination thatchildren can counter adult-based intentions and interpretations, thereby potentially creating a muchmorebeautifulmodelforpolitics.JeffFerrell(2001:235) has similarly advocated for the primary impor-tance of adopting ‘a sense of play and pleasureamong the ruins’ of hierarchical social relations thatcontinue to betray us even as we reveal their ines-capable mortality. Hierarchy is a system of organi-zation that only lives because we allow it to(Springer, 2014a), and we eradicate it every timewe summon the nerve to laugh in its face.To live into the processual possibility of democ-racy, which exists latently as a fundamental pre-cept of space (Springer, 2011), we must interpretour lives as possibilities and processes as well.Recognizing that there is no dichotomous linewhere we cross from childhood to adulthood isaccordingly a step toward ‘the horizon of democ-racy’ (Purcell, 2013: 28), as it allows us to embraceimagination, laughter, and play alongside responsi- bility, struggle, and hard work as constituent piecesofbecomingdemocratic.AsMasseyhintsintheepi-graph that opens this paper, ‘spatial delight’ is thechildlike wonder that manifests when we finallyrealizethatgeographyisnotdestiny,butowingtoitsrelational and processual qualities, it is in fact anendless unfolding of possibilities. Democracy, Pur-cell (2013:21)contends, is much the same,notcon-tent to be subdued as an idle fantasy, but through anexploration andamplification ofpractices andideasthatarealreadytakingplace,wemay‘cutapath  . . . toward a possible world yet to come’. Space isaccordingly the field of possibility, democracy theexploration of freedom, and childhood the enginethatdrivesimaginationforward.Whenweacknowl-edge that each resonates as a fractal of the other, wewitness the heterogeneity of the former collide withthesympathy,kindness,andgenerosityofthelatter,anditisinthismomentofimpactthatwecanrejoiceintheradianceofautonomy.Suchavisionletsusgo places we’ve never been, and we must maintain a 82  Dialogues in Human Geography 4(1)  by guest on May 25, 2014dhg.sagepub.comDownloaded from   youthful exuberance, for democracy is a long and arduous journey. References Ferrell J (2001)  Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures inUrban Anarchy . New York, NY: Palgrave.Gaiman N (2011)  Blueberry Girl  . New York, NY:HarperCollins.Goldman E (1931/2011)  Living my Life (Two Volumes inOne) . New York, NY: Cosimo.HoltJ(1983)  HowChildrenLearn .NewYork,NY:Merloyd Lawrence.IllichI(1971)  DeschoolingSociety .NewYork,NY:Harper and Row.Massey D (2005)  For Space . London, UK: Sage.Matthews H (2003) Coming of age for children’s geogra- phies.  Children’s Geographies  1: 3–6.Philo C (1992) Neglected rural geographies: a review.  Journal of Rural Studies  8: 193–207.Purcell M (2013)  The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy .Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Rancie`reJ(1991) TheIgnorantSchoolmaster:FiveLessonsin Intellectual Emancipation . Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Rancie`re J (1999)  Disagreement: Politics and Philoso- phy .Minneapolis, MN:UniversityofMinnesotaPress.Rouhani F (2012) Practice what you teach: placinganarchism in and out of the classroom.  Antipode 44: 1726–1741.Springer S (2011) Public Space as emancipation: medita-tions on anarchism, radical democracy, neoliberalismand violence.  Antipode  43: 525–562.Springer S (2012) Anarchism !  What geography still oughtto be.  Antipode  44: 1605–1624.Springer (2014a) Human geography without hierarchy.  Progress in Human Geography . DOI: 10.1177/0309132513508208Springer S (2014b) War and pieces.  Space and Polity .DOI: 10.1080/13562576.2013.878430Springer S, Ince A, Pickerill J, et al. (2012) Reanimatinganarchist geographies: a new burst of colour.  Antipode 44: 1591–1604.Valentine G (2003) Boundary crossings: transitions fromchildhood to adulthood.  Children’s Geographies  1:37–52.Ward C (1978)  Child in the City . London, UK: Bedford Square.Ward C (1988)  Child in the Country . London, UK: Bed-ford Square. ResponseOn Democracy, Revolution, andOpening Out onto the World Response by:  Mark Purcell,  University of Washington, USA I want to begin by sincerely thanking the contribu-tors to this forum. They have produced reallythoughtful and productively critical responses to the book, and I very much appreciate their efforts.While there are many worthwhile points raised across the five reviews, I want to draw out threethreads in particular that I find particularly compel-ling and worth further discussion.The first is the Eurocentric nature of the book’sargument. I use that term descriptively rather than pejoratively: The theoryI engage deeplyinthe book is all firmly rooted in the European experience. Ilove this theory, and cannot imagine thinking with-out it (nor do I want to). But at the same time, of course, this theory is particular and limited, not uni-versal. I do not assume that the democracy I advo-cate can travel unproblematically to any place inthe world. Rather it has to enter into conversationwith multiple experiences in multiple contexts.SolomonBenjaminisoptimistic thatmyideasaboutdemocracy can be helpful in thinking about Indiancities, as is Melis Oguz with respect to the recentevents in Turkey. But at the same time, both quiterightly explore the ways that the very differentexperiences of cities and political communities inthe global South might trouble my imagination of democracy, and indeed push it to continue develop-inginnewdirections.Forexample,attimesIsuggest Book review forum  83  by guest on May 25, 2014dhg.sagepub.comDownloaded from
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