Mapping Brooklyn's Redlines today

This semester, I’m taking night courses at Pratt in order to (finally) learn to use digital mapping tools. For my Introduction to QGIS course, I am working on a project that examines the historical afterlives of the HOLC redline maps of the late 1930s. In order to do that, I needed to map those districts onto a contemporary streetgrid. On the right below is my first attempt at this, next to the original.

HOLC maps

“Homo Diluvii Testis”

In the second chapter of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction there’s a section where she details the historical emergence of the idea of extinction (an idea I never imagined as having a pre-history). In it, she describes a mistakenly identified fossil found in the Netherlands that had been given the name Homo diluvii testis (or ‘man who was witness to the flood’). Given what I’ve been reading lately—like William Gibson’s The Peripheral and other anthropo-scenic lit—I couldn’t help but think that this name—originally meant for an organism with a “large, half-moon-shaped skull”—could describe a global us, the mass of humans living through the anthropocene observing and producing a long, slow flood on a biblical scale, but largely ambivalent about it.

In this way, the name homo diluvii testis also recalls Giorgio Agamben’s exploration of homo sacer, a person both inside and outside of law—banned from the city and able to be killed with impunity, but not sacrificed. I started to wonder if perhaps we have become homines diluvii testis (pardon my ignorance of Latin here…).

I’m not sure if this is a global nihilism, an engagement with the horror of philosophy, or something ontologically different in degree, so I suppose that after I finish The Sixth Extinction I should pick up Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1.

Wages Against Housework

Students in my Global Development course read Sylvia Federici’s “Wages Against Housework” this week, and the discussion the text provoked was one of the most lively and critical that I’ve ever had in any of my classrooms. Students seemed willing to engage with a whole suite of issues–from the problem with naturalized gender roles to 40 years of transformations in economies of care (especially vis. migrant women doing carework) to some pretty substantive questions about capitalism and justice. I often feel like these questions remain stuck behind students’ thick wall of suburban apathy. But this. This was a breathe of fresh air.

My friend Emily, who originally sent me the essay over the summer (after meeting Federici) also sent along this image, which is great.

Strike while the iron is hot, people.

The Sea is History

During her talk at a workshop I recently participated in at the University of Toronto, the inimitable Laleh Khalili read the entirety of a poem by Derek Walcott titled The Sea is History. I don’t encounter a lot of poetry in my life, and when I do I’m not often moved by it. But this particular poem really seemed to strike a chord with me, with its tales of seafarers careening across the watery surface, further submerging already buried memories, bodies, and systems of economic exploitation. Here’s the first stanza:

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.
“The Sea is History” from Selected Poems by Derek Walcott. 2007

The rest of it can be found here.

Mapping Adjunct Pay [An Update!]

I’m very excited that this map has been viewed so many times, and if it can in any way assist part-time and contingent labor in their struggle for better pay, that would be amazing. It’d be wonderful (to me) if the map encourages people to debate what might be a ‘rightful share’ for teaching and intellectual labor in higher education. That said, I should also reiterate that I am very aware of this map’s limitations and methodological issues, and I thought I should explore some of them here:

Adjunct map Mapping Adjunct Pay at Colleges and Universities across the U.S.

  1. I had hoped to use living wage data at the county scale instead of state minimum wages. However, the author of the most recent (outstanding) study of living wages asked me not to scrape her data, a request I respected. If I want to take this project further, then I will have to generate my own living wage data. That’s fine. As this was a five-week class where we first had to learn the basics of interactive mapping, the map represents only a quick sketch of an idea. The number of courses one would have to teach to reach a living wage would obviously be greater (and the information more geographically rich) than those necessary to reach the minimum wage, making this relationship between wages and teaching more dramatic. But…
  2. There are indeed very real problems trying to compare hourly work to adjunct labor. How much work does an adjunct do outside of each 3-credit course in terms of prep and paperwork? How long does it take? It’s different for each worker in each field at each school. Part of my reasoning behind placing these two different types of work in relation to each other was to simply draw attention to the fact that there is a) an uneven geography of adjunct pay and b) that in many places, the level of exploitation of this type of work is absurd. The map makes these conditions visible, but does little more than add to an important ongoing conversation. But, comparing these variables is important if only to ask: Should we even be having this conversation at all when tuition across the country is so high (requiring students to take out massive loans), tenured and tenure-track faculty are being told to do ever-more with ever-less, and yet an ever-expanding army of administrators are pulling in six and seven figure salaries?
  3. Another complication emerges if we consider whether or not the adjunct is teaching as their only source of income. But the point of putting these data in relation to each other was simply to wonder: does that even matter? And on that score I think I can say: no, it doesn’t. Low wage work is rarely framed as full time work. Businesses often point to that nugget when they argue that the wage floor shouldn’t increase or when they use scheduling software to assure that none of their employees work enough hours to earn benefits. Universities are no different, and they strategically hire adjuncts to improve course availability (improving student retention) for tuition-paying students on the cheap. At some schools (still trying to find more data on this), adjuncts make up more than 50% of the teachers. Universities with ballooning administrative rosters are in effect fundraising for their salaries on the backs of student debt and the devaluation of much of the labor that makes the university possible. And finally, we’ve all heard the phrase that students learning conditions are teachers working conditions. While trying not to be too hyperbolic, I think it should also be noted that classrooms across the country are turning into landscapes of violence and fear for students and teachers alike. In thinking about this aspect of the division of academic labor, universities are essentially placing massively underpaid (and job-insecure) adjuncts into classrooms where not only their livelihoods but their lives are on the line.

Laboratories of Enemy Behavior

Cold War Social Science and the Korean War Prison

Annual Conference for the Association of American Geographers, 2017

Session Title: Geography, War, and the Human Sciences

The Korean War saw the capture of enemies on the battlefield become far more meaningful than simply the removal of a body from the field of war. During the conflict, the detainee body circulated in a suite of mediated spaces: in international law, at the negotiating table at the Panmunjom armistice meetings, in newspapers, and as a dynamic subject in a host of military doctrinal revisions. This period also corresponds with the emergence of a flurry of social scientific research that sought to unleash the power of rationality and modern science on complex and unruly systems. Indeed, these two narratives are intertwined, as one of the central ways that the American military came to know the cultural landscape of the Cold War enemy was through social and behavioral scientists’ use of wartime detainees as entries in a living database, and war prison space itself as a research laboratory.

In this paper, I detail a series of studies produced by teams of scientists that were dispatched to the Korean War camps to interview both prisoners and combatants, using cutting-edge research methods to generate recommendations about managing the often-disorderly practice of apprehending prisoners. As the case studies here suggest, these scholars became an integral part of the fledgling Cold War military-industrial-academic complex, and in the Korean war prisons they sought not only to calculate and quantify the vagaries of the battlefield, but also to repackage them as governable spaces that neatly reproduced the structure of a clear bipolar geopolitical narrative.