November 20, 2018, by Stephen Legg

CFP: RGS 2019, “A Non-Representational Historical Geography? Archives, Affects and Atmospheres”

The lights of Piccadilly Circus shine through the thick fog that has brought night at noon

Noon-day lights of Piccadilly Circus in the fog, 27th Nov 1931. Source: Evening Standard

A Non-Representational Historical Geography? Archives, Affects and Atmospheres

CFP: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, Royal Geographical Society & Imperial College London, 27-30 August 2019

Stephen Legg and Ivan Marković, University of Nottingham

Over the last 20 years ‘Non-Representational Theory’ (NRT) has emerged from within, and transformed, human geography. While not all sub-disciplines of human geography have embraced NRT, few have not been shaped by the questions it has posed. Nigel Thrift, the main architect of the theory’s emergence, identified it against many of the chief tendencies of the ‘cultural turn’ to representational analysis in the 1980-90s (Thrift 2000). NRT came to emphasise, as one ‘interested sceptic’ has put it: the practical and processual fluidity of things; meaning emerging through action; relationality; habitual interactions with the world; the possibility of surprising emergences; and an all-inclusive materiality (Cresswell 2012).  Beyond the bounds of a nameable ‘theory’ this body of work has inspired a much broader attunement towards that which ‘words cannot capture, that texts cannot convey’ (Nash 2000), including work on: more-than-human encounters; atmospheric, emotional and sensory experiences; and affects which blur the boundaries between body, language and text.

At the time that NRT was emerging within (mostly British) academia, historical geography was continuing to work through the cultural turn. Dominant turns included those influenced by historical materialism, post-structuralism, and the arts and humanities more broadly (Heffernan 2009). Within and beyond these turns, many of the analytical questions and philosophical developments within NRT have been taken up by (cultural-)historical geography, including studies of past performances, sensory environments, political affects, atmospheres, and automobilities. However, the borderland between NRT and historical geography is one (to misappropriate Darby 1953) ‘with many trails and many different types of country’, not all of which intersect or sit happily together. Questions persist over the recoverability of non-representational matter and performances from representational archives, of the language in which NRT communicates, of the political implications of NRT thinking, and the methodologies with which historical geographers might put NRT in to practice.

We invite papers which will reflect on the last two decades of NRT from historical perspectives. The overarching questions will be: what is the potential for further NRT spatial thinking in historical scholarship? Papers may like to consider:

  • The potential, or not, for NRT inspired historical scholarship on sexuality, gender, race and the geographies of difference
  • Historical geographies of performance and the sensory
  • Questions of past affect, atmospheres, and the interpersonal
  • Oral histories and encountering past geographies
  • Historicising affect/affect historically
  • The attunement and orientation of historical scholars
  • Archive as performance/archival atmospheres
  • Sensing and animating the archives/senses in the archive
  • Methodologies for recovering the ineffable – moods, atmospheres, affects
  • Dialogue within historical scholarship which also dwells on the limits to representation (eg subaltern theory, disability studies)

Professor Ben Anderson, University of Durham, has kindly agreed to act as a discussant.

Please send abstracts of up to 300 words by January 11th 2019 to Ivan Marković (

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