Richard Nisa

I am an Associate Professor of geography in the Department of Social Sciences and History at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where I was named the 2018 Becton College Teacher of the Year and received the 2019 Outstanding Honors Faculty Award for the Florham Campus. For the past year I have been the Chair of the Urban Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers.

My days are passed fumbling through the challenges of parenthood, teaching, and writing on a host of issues at the interface between geography, history, and architecture. As I am my university’s sole geographer, I emphasize interdisciplinarity and collaboration in my pedagogy, and my classes are frequently cross-listed in several disciplines, including history, government, economics, sociology, and criminology. At FDU, I was the lead author of the program rationale, objectives, assessment framework, and curriculum map of my current university’s recently-approved interdisciplinary Environmental Studies major, and am excited to welcome new students as the director of the major in the Fall of 2023.

My scholarship explores the intersections of detainment, infrastructure, logistics and circulation, and design in an array of historical and political contexts. I am currently working on my first book, The Global Capture Chain: Infrastructures of U.S.-Managed Military Detainment from Truman to Trump, which explores the circulatory, political, and technological systems that constitute U.S.-managed wartime detainment spaces. My work has been published in venues as varied as The Journal of Historical Geography and the edited volume Algorithmic Life: Calculative Devices in the Age of Big Data. I am currently co-editing an issue of Radical History Review on the theme of “The Political Lives of Infrastructure,” due out in October 2023.

Before beginning my life as an academic, I worked full-time as an architect and freelance graphic designer in New York, Paris, and Iowa. I was an award-winning designer, and in the intervening years I've presented work in the Schools of Architecture at Yale and Syracuse and been on several design juries at Harvard, Syracuse, Pratt, and City College. I still find time to design—fitting in small projects here and there and nourishing my love of furniture design and woodworking. I currently live in Philly.

My CV is here.
Or you can email me at nisa [at] fdu [dot] edu
For the time being, I'm also on Twitter: @nisaface

Regarding the Crisis

The title of the site comes from a short essay by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the English translation of which was published in the journal October shortly before his death. This piece offers a prescient description of how technologies, networks, and media savvy have all contributed to the changing spatiality of power due to the collapse of more traditional “enclosed” institutions. He writes:

We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure–prison, hospital, factory, school, family. The family is an “interior,” in crisis like all other interiors– scholarly, professional, etc. The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons. But everyone knows that these institutions are finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods. It’s only a matter of administering their last rites and of keeping people employed until the installation of the new forces knocking at the door. These are the societies of control… (p.3-4)

Deleuze, G. 1992. “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October. Vol 59 (Winter); p. 3-7.

We are all-too familiar with this collapse. With increasing regularity, public schools announce budget deficits, academic performance shortfalls, and bureaucratic chaos. Hospitals are often dangerously overcrowded, lacking in necessary funding, and have a number of practices politicized and services cut. Even the most well funded interior institutions—state militaries—have in the last twenty years seen the influx of private contractors and corporate service-providers: the military industrial complex run roughshod over the limits of the war machine. Deleuze points out that these changes increased dramatically in frequency following World War II. As rigid structures began their descent into perpetual reformation, a new mode of control—a society of control—began to take their place. Control, as a diagram of power, is decentralized, lightweight and mobile. If institutional enclosures are solid molds, Deleuze argues, than controls are modulations, self-deforming casts that can change to fulfill the needs of power.

In the context of my work, this shift has produced a distinct set of spatial practices that challenge the prevailing logics of detention, placing an emphasis on mobile and open performances of detainment rather than a fixed institutional isolation. Ultimately, post-Cold War detention practices have endured a substantial reorientation, today representing not only the successful completion of counterinsurgency strategy, but increasingly emerging as a vital means of contemporary security practice. Detention is no longer spatially or temporally fixed. Successful detention is not only a question of designing and constructing a secure edifice, but something much more complex. The crisis of enclosure points towards an understanding of how institutional power has leaked out of its interior and is veering towards the total decentralization and free-floating dynamism of control.

–New Year’s Day, 2010


This website would not have come into existence without a good deal of coding help from my friends Josh and Mandy. They are amazing. Anything on this site that looks bad or functions poorly is solely my doing.

The font face used throughout is Adelle Greek, designed in 2009 by Veronika Burian, José Scaglione, and Irene Vlachouand. It is served to the page with Adobe Typekit.