Archive for the Political Geography Category

Mumbai attacks are “not India’s 911”

Posted in Political Geography on December 13, 2008 by geography101

For those of you who wrote your final exam essay on Mumbai, or have a general interest in the city, I thought I’d post this lucid account of the attacks from one of India’s greatest contemporary writers, Arundhati Roy. She alerts us to the dangers in allowing for decontextualized readings of these attacks. In a recent article in the Guardian, she writes:

We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11”. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.

As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.

But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

Read the full essay here


Urban elite accuse Indian government of failing to protect citizens’ right to life

Posted in Geography and Globalization, Political Geography, Uncategorized on December 7, 2008 by geography101

Today’s New York Times ran a story of an ‘extraordinary’ lawsuit being filed against the Indian government on behalf of the country’s elite.  In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, investment bankers, corporate lawyers and their ilk charge that the state has ‘lagged in its constitutional duty’ to protect citizens’ right to life.  India’s elite, who inhabit a world far removed from the insecurity and precariousness that defines everyday life for the nation’s urban poor, have been ‘politicized’:

Since the attacks, which killed 163 people, plus nine gunmen, there has been an outpouring of anger from unlikely quarters. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of urban, English-speaking, tank-top-wearing citizens stormed the Gateway of India, a famed waterfront monument, venting anger at their elected leaders. There were similar protests in the capital, New Delhi, and the southern technology hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad. All were organized spontaneously, with word spread through text messages and Facebook pages.

An Indian actor, writing in The Hindustan Times in Mumbai, exposes the paradox confronting Indians today: “we overlook for now your neglect of the city. Its floods, its traffic, its filth, its pollution. Just deliver to us a world-standard antiterrorism plan.” Read the full article from the Hindustan Times here. The link to the New York Times piece is here.

Contested Nationalism: Basque Country and the politics of statelessness

Posted in Political Geography on December 2, 2008 by geography101


Nikki Hilsenhoff, a student of 101, probed theories of states and nations through the case of Basque Country, an area that borders France and Spain, and home to the Basque population. She writes:

basque-map2The Basque community crosses over the political boarder dividing France and Spain.The Basque population is approximately 3 million; 92% of which are within Spanish borders. With their distinct ethnic identity and language, members of the Basque Community have fought for independence and autonomy. While the Basques in Spain are offered more freedom, in terms of language and education than in France, neither France nor Spain has ever granted political independence.

As a stateless nation the Basque have been struggling, often violently, for sovereignty for years. This example illustrates how nations, and nationalism can exist without exclusively being associated with a state, or an independent political unit with officially recognized geographic boundaries.

Nationalism in crisis: Baseball caps okay, Turbans are not.

Posted in Political Geography on November 20, 2008 by geography101

Lauren Hsiao-Ling Nowak from our class presented an acute example of how nationalism, under perceived crisis, structures social relations at the scale of the workplace. Workers for the MTA who practice Sikhism wore their turbans to work for several years without incident. Following September 11th, 2001, the MTA began ‘cracking down’ on Sikhs wearing their turbans while working, stating that it was against ‘company policy’. Lauren writes:

The video clip below is about employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for the state of New York who practice Sikhism. Many times, those who have heard of Sikhism confuse it with hinduism or Islam, but it is neither. It is a religion from Punjab India, and believes in the equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and gender. Sikhism requires you to wear a turban and never cut your hair.

Sikh workers were threatened with being terminated from their jobs if they continued to wear their turbans, targeted on the basis of their appearance. MTA officials determined their headdress was not part of the uniform, even though they were not the only people wearing something ‘unofficial’ on their head (other workers wore Russian winter hats, or baseball caps supporting the Mets & the Yankess ).

Many of you may be thinking, “why didn’t they just take their turbans off?” but like I said earlier, Sikhism is the only religion that REQUIRES you to wear a turban. Although nationalism is often said to be diverse and bring sense of commonality and belonging, in this example, we can see this idea can be greatly infringed upon in a smaller scale, within the workplace of subway stations in New York.

National symbol of American Dream is a foreclosure hotspot

Posted in Economic Geography, Political Geography, Urban Geography on November 19, 2008 by geography101
Levitt and Sons filled for bankrupcy in 2007

Levitt and Sons filed for bankruptcy in 2007

An op-ed piece in today’s New York Times notes that in Levittown, empty houses and for sale signs are shattering enduring images of the post-war suburban dream. In Long Island, the home of Levittown, about 1 in 3 mortgages were sub-prime:

“[Foreclosures] may seem to be a problem for overbuilt exurbs, go-go condo zones and McMansion sprawl — not tidy, solid communities like Levittown, where the American Dream was invented.”

Levitt and his sons revolutionized homebuilding over 50 years ago through a combination of technological innovations and mass production. Levittown became the pinnacle of a society driven by middle class consumption. As the largest all-white community in the nation in 1960 (today it’s 94 % white), it also speaks volumes to the social geographies produced through the federally administered race-restricted mortgages of that era. Last year, Levitt and Sons filled for bankruptcy protection after its investments in Florida’s housing markets collapsed. Read the full story from the New York Times here

Rebecca Solnit on the Election of Barak Obama

Posted in Political Geography on November 6, 2008 by geography101

Rebecca Solnit, activist and essayist, with some words of caution following Tuesday’s election:

‘…we have been given a hero, which is a bit like being given a chainsaw or a credit card: you have to be careful how you use it.’

Read her essay on four moments that have constituted the remaking of a nation.