October 2012: Borderlands, New Publication, Neil

This website basically serves as a portal for updates on new publications, research projects, teaching, events, lectures…and the very occasional blog post.

I am jetlagged, up early (5am, very uncharacteristic), and writing from Singapore.  I’m here as part as the academic committee for the 3rd Asian Borderlands conference, held in conjunction with the Asia Research Institute, NUS, and the International Association for Asian Studies. We spent most of yesterday setting up the photo exhibition, a selection of images from the borderlands of Russia to Burma, taken by some of the participants – Dolly Kikon, Duncan McDuie-Ra, Makiko Kimura, and Martin Saxer.  It’s warm and muggy and thunderstormy, but a nice contrast to the chilly windy raininess of Amsterdam. And: the list of food eaten so far includes: BBQ squid, watermelon juice, fish ball soup, ice coffee in plastic bag. I plan to continue on this track.

Oh, there’s a Facebook page too, in case anyone likes to “like” Asian Borderlands.

Also this morning, I saw that Stuart Elden had posted the new issue of EPD: Society and Space (Vol 30, Issue 5). I’ve got an article in it, dealing with material culture, Marx, aprons, geography, and Tibet, the usual things I like. Except for aprons, perhaps.  See here: From loom to machine: Tibetan aprons and the configuration of place. It looks like a nice issue – I’m looking forward to reading the other papers.

There’s a particularly heartbreaking angle to this. The new EPD issue also arrives with a tribute to Neil Smith, who was a good friend and supervisor throughout graduate school – and, in fact, even before that.

A colleague suggested that I should run my potential graduate school plans by a friend of his, described as “Scottish, clever, and a hoot.”  The three of us met for a drink, Neil sang the Socialist ABC’s, and said I should consider the anthropology department were he was just hired at the time. So I did, and it was a great place to be challenged. Neil mentored like no other. So it’s weird and sad (and all sorts of other not-very-clever words because I don’t have the adequate vocabulary to express the exact emotion) to have an article in a journal that also has a tribute to someone who helped that very article come to fruition in so many ways, so much so that it went without saying to acknowledge him, and that hurts a bit.  So, for what it’s worth, this isn’t a long tribute (that might come later), but instead, some thought snippets in lieu of an acknowledgement:

A potential masters student came in to my office last week, and we had an satisfyingly intense talk about fear and insecurity at border checkpoints, of Dutch politics, and of hyphenated identities in the US.  The student asked if I had any tips for thesis-writing. I said, “don’t be afraid to be political.” But as soon as these words were out of my mouth, I knew that I had stolen them. These were the exact words that Neil used after reading a draft of my a chapter. I stopped short, upset.

Coming back from the BBQ squid stall last night in the thundery Singapore weather, a colleague and I were discussing cities without city centers, throwing out examples of urban areas with paltry public transport systems – only designed for wealthy commuters, ignoring whole sections of the city, reproducing inequality, etc. I found myself saying, “let’s talk to Neil about this” – and stopped short again.

All this to say that in retrospect, I suppose Neil wouldn’t want anyone to stop short at all. Perhaps the thing is to keep talking. So, Neil, friend, we will try our best to keep talking and not stopping. There’s more to say, but for now, I think the thing that can encourage one to not stop is to read the powerful comments from people who knew and were inspired by Neil in some form or other. This is lovely stuff.  There are comments on CUNY’s Center for Place, Culture, and Politics website (and here), a really great blog post by Tom Slater, open access papers now available from Society and Space and Antipode, and a call for us to create more loving futures. Hear hear.

Here’s Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins on TOTP, mainly because Neil really liked this song, and it’s fun to remember him pogo-ing to it.

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