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What’s Left? Neo-critical Geography, or, The Flat Pluralist World of Business Class by Neil Smith, in "Antipode," Vol. 37, Issue 5 (November 2005)

What’s Left? Neo-critical Geography, or, The Flat Pluralist World of Business Class by Neil Smith, in "Antipode," Vol. 37, Issue 5 (November 2005)

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Published by: Grumpy As All Get Out on Dec 21, 2012
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Neo-Critical Geography,Or,The Flat Pluralist World of BusinessClass
Neil Smith
Center for Place, Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of NewYork, USA; nsmith@gc.cuny.edu
If you construct a career raging against the system, you can’t stopraging just because the system has accepted you.Louis Menand (2005)Power is like a violin. It is held in the left hand and played by theright. Argentinian aphorism... a heterarchial Left perceives a flatter world. ... So, first of all, nomore policing. Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift (2005)Love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal ...but don’t talk about revolution,that’s going a little bit too far .... And that’s why I’m turning you in ....I’m a liberal.Phil Ochs (1966)
When Tony Blair was re-elected in 2001, he promised to continuethe moral crusade of ‘‘New Labour’’ as a force for political and moralregeneration in Britain and the world. Workers, women, immigrants, Asian and Caribbean Britons, many in the middle class, all caught the wave. The nightmare of Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s was still visceral in many people’s minds, and a sweepingmajority still thought Blair the best of a motley crew. It was becoming
2005 Editorial Board of 
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street,Malden, MA 02148, USA 
increasingly clear, however, to a wide swath of people includingdisaffected members of his own party and eventually cabinet, thatBlair was not the answer to Thatcher but was in many ways continuingher neo-liberal policies. Not only did he not roll back Thatcher’stravesties but he sought to complete various ambitions of theThatcher government in a way that neither the Iron Lady nor hersuccessor John Major could ever have hoped for. Blair’s second termin office consummated many of these goals, further shambolizing aThatcherized National Health Care system and initiating universityprivatisation with student fees.Instead of standing-up for the needs of his voters, Blair took hisplace as a leader of global neo-liberalism, sufficiently so that he easilytransferred his allegiance from a dilettantish Bill Clinton to a danger-ously cowboyish George Bush. By the same token, Blair’s moral andchristian crusade was not only unperturbed by the Bush decision toinvade Iraq, but he evidently did his best to comply with the Washingtonagenda at the expense of many thousands of lives. A report in theprestigious British medical journal,
The Lancet
, estimates that as manyas 100,000 Iraqi lives were lost in the first 18 months of the war, anestimate made before the 2004 expulsion of Falluja’s 300,000 residentsand consequent levelling of the city (Al-Rubeyi, B. 2004). The atrociousLondon bombings of July 2005 gave Blair no cause to consider that the war in Iraq had escalated rather than resolved global terror, but insteadprovided the pretext for a crackdown on free speech at home. At best,Blair’shasbeenamoralismofconvenience,abletojustifyeverytwistandturn of the neo-liberal advance as well as the state terror perpetrated onprisoners, from Basra to Abu Ghraib, Bell Marsh to Guanta´namo.The idea of neo-liberalism sprouting from the spores of a nominallysocialist party was at first stunning but is now an old story. Socialdemocrats all over Europe, and from New Zealand to Brazil, have in various ways made pacts with the neo-liberal devil. And one day soon,the Chinese Communist Party will surely announce that capitalism isactually the highest stage of communism.
Neo-Critical Geography?
Could the discipline of geography be on a similar trajectory? Oncequite staid, geography has become one of the most vibrant discip-lines–‘‘the sexiest’’, according to marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton(1997). It presents a perfect case of uneven academic development:in the 1970s, radicals, anti-war activists, marxists, feminists, huma-nists, socialists, environmentalists and many others sprouted in thefertile soil of a long-fallow discipline, often displacing a buddingpositivism. There was no effective resistance. Geography had longcut itself off from social theory, and so, when social theory blossomed,
2005 Editorial Board of 
the discipline lacked any immune system to neutralize the invader.Sociology, anthropology, history, political science, psychology–all hadhad their marxists, assorted radicals and feminists, so while the broadradicalization of the academy in the 1970s certainly affected thesedisciplines, the effect was less profound and less lasting than ingeography. Geography’s gatekeepers were overwhelmed by new andradical ideas they could barely comprehend and could not staunch.Their moss-ridden portcullises of disciplinary defense crumbled in the withering stare of world-wanting ambition: social theory of so manydifferent stripes swarmed through the gates of geography galvanizinghope, intellectual excitement and political intent. It is extraordinary,in retrospect, that in the reactionary 1980s of Thatcher and Reaganand Kohl, marxist, feminist and broadly radical research (eventuallyincluding postmodern, poststructural, postcolonial and many otherkinds of progressive social theory) pretty much defined the researchfrontier in human geography. The policers of disciplinary proprietyhad been vanquished, at least temporarily.Perhaps in part because of this success and geographers’ newinsistence on grappling with politics after the debacles of environ-mental determinism and 1930s geopolitics, the discipline today ismuch more integrated into mainstream political debates, especiallyin Britain, and closer perchance to the temptations of Blairism.There, unlike in the United States, the radicalized generation of the1970s has some access to the ruling government; in the US mostacademics don’t even have access to the opposition.We still live today with the bountiful results of the broad socialtheory revolution in geography and the discipline is a far better placefor it. The multiplicity of social theoretical perspectives makes it anenviable domicile compared with the doctrinaire narrowness of eco-nomics, say, or political science. Gone since the postwar era is the withering definitional retort: ‘but is it geography?’And yet a signifi-cant backlash has already set in. Some of it rides on the back of Geographical Information Sciences (GISci), reasserts the power of anarrow scientific positivism, and reframes the discipline as a spatialscience in the service of technocratic power. The disciplinary power of GISci is undoubtedly greatest in the United States, but it is also strongin East and South Asia as well as Eastern Europe. Yet there are otheravenues back toward neo-liberal officialdom; the backlash comes morestealthily from within. Academics are no less capable than Tony Blairof backtracking from radical critic to establishment doyen.In an attempt to oppose the emerging backlash by bringing togetherquite divergent oppositional political voices, a number of geographersin the 1990s organized the International Critical Geography group(IcallittheICGbutmanyotherscallittheICGG:thispresumablyoffersa sense of how dangerously organized we are as a threat to the global
Neo-Critical Geography
2005 Editorial Board of 

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