Spatial Politics

reclaiming the right to the city



Oct '11 - Dec '11

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    Breaking news: Political Boundaries are Political

    By fischerrandom
    Nov 13, '11 10:45 AM EST

    From an article in Nature, Angry words over East Asian seas, about the controversial use of maps laying claim to contested territories by Chinese scientists; emphasis mine:

    "Meanwhile, Michael of Climatic Change, has received a barrage of e-mails since June from scientists contesting a Chinese map that his journal published more than four years ago...But this kind of highly politicized debate over territory 'is not a question that a journal like ours wants to deal with', says Oppenheimer.

    Why Chinese scientists include the controversial map in their papers is not clear. Following the e-mails, Oppenheimer decided that the disputed map had no relevance to the conclusion of the paper in question, and suggested that the lead author, Xuemei Shao of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research in Beijing, change it. Shao refused, explaining in an e-mail that the figure 'is requested by the Chinese government'.

    Science, Nature and Climatic Change have ultimately decided not to remove the offending maps."

    To make an obvious and pedantic point: Regardless of what scheme is chosen the end result exists relative to existing political relations and therefore will benefit some agenda. Even though Mr. Oppenheimer doesn't want to engage in a highly politicized debate over territory - representation of territories have always been a vehicle for exactly that - whether he likes it or not. Especially when said representation lays claim to 1.6 billion to 21.3 billion recoverable barrels of oil.

    Probably the worst way to engage this is to sort of shrug, imply scientific objectivity shouldn't be tainted with political debate - and then do nothing! (That's right Michael Oppenheimer, geoscientist at Princeton University and co-editor of Climatic Change - I went there).

    Now that it seems that Mr. Oppenheimer's publication has yielded to China's political agenda we'll have to deal with the consequences of rewarding this kind of soft imperialism, while undermining the critical objectivity of science publications.

    Also, by choosing to not set in place a clear, consensually agreed upon framework dictating the representation of contested territories there's also the cost to the autonomy of the Chinese scientific community. If as the article implies Chinese scientists are being forced to include these maps the inaction of the scientific community has provided no external leverage for Chinese scientists to fight back against unwanted state intrusion.  


    science fail

    • Reminds me of a similar dispute being waged on maps in Argentina. Having lived in Argentina for a couple of years, anytime I saw a map of Argentina it included the territory it claims in Antarctica as well as the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). Try telling an Argentine that most of the world recognizes the Malvinas/Falklands as a British Overseas Territory. From what I understand the Argentine flag (horizontal fields of light blue-white-light blue with a yellow sun) was originally designed as just the fields of color with the sun being displayed during times of war. Although now the sun is a permanent part of the flag regardless of the nation's state of war, I was told by many that the sun has been displayed on the flag since the nation's failed invasion of the Malvinas/Falklands in the 80's and will remain there until they 'rightfully govern' the islands again.

      Nov 14, 11 11:53 am

      It's interesting how much of a hold notions of 'rightful property' has a hold over a nation's collective imagination. I get the same thing here about Taiwan and Tibet as well. 

      Also, that flag anecdote is kickass, if unfortunately nationalistic. 

      Nov 15, 11 10:11 am

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About this Blog

This blog is a way for me to think through an idea of architecture as a vehicle for advocacy. I want to be rigorous about this; to understand our everyday spaces as a product of dominant political orders, and then unpack notions of space and politics as a way to critique them. I adopt this method in order to establish a logical foundation from which to construct a model of critical architecture. This can play out in many ways, I'd like to use the blog as a way of structuring these ideas.

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