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Interview – Jason Dittmer

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Jason Dittmer is Professor of Political Geography at College Faculty London. His earlier analysis explored the position of standard tradition in geopolitics, with initiatives on nationalist superheroes and American evangelical thought. His present analysis explores the position of materiality in geopolitics via assemblage concept, specializing in subjects from army heritage to diplomacy to Gibraltar. His monographs embrace Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero (Temple College Press, 2013) and Diplomatic Material (Duke College Press, 2017). His most up-to-date e book is the second version of Popular Culture, Geopolitics, and Identity (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019), co-authored with Daniel Bos.

The place do you see essentially the most thrilling analysis/debates taking place in your discipline?

Get into the ocean. That’s my recommendation. There’s a lot fascinating work occurring proper now wanting on the oceans, which have been lengthy uncared for in political geography and worldwide relations. I’m significantly impressed by Kim Peters and Phil Steinberg on ‘wet ontology’, which asks us to suppose anew about politics, theorising it from the ocean (wanting in the direction of land) fairly than from the land (wanting in the direction of the ocean). The materiality of the ocean makes intelligible a number of the extra esoteric components of latest materialist thought (forces, currents, and many others.) but additionally de-centres the terrestrial in a means that opens up different areas for geopolitical consideration. As an example, my PhD scholar Will Stewart is pondering via the geopolitics of the Worldwide House Station, working via the politics of zero-G areas, and so forth. So many horizons are opening up, and it’s thrilling to see the place folks will take them.

How has the way in which you perceive the world modified over time, and what (or who) prompted essentially the most vital shifts in your pondering?

Properly, I can consider two actual huge shifts in my mindset over the course of my profession. I began out as an easy IR scholar, even at one level contemplating going into the U.S. State Division. However once I was in graduate faculty finding out political geography (circa 2001), I learn David Campbell’s Writing Security and it blew my thoughts. I can nonetheless keep in mind the place I used to be sitting once I learn the introduction, and the way it felt. This despatched me down the trail of discourse evaluation, and finally I found the challenge of Critical Geopolitics and I discovered my first house. Discovering Vital Geopolitics proper across the time the Battle on Terror was starting was such a key conjuncture for me; I used to be studying folks like Gerard Toal, Jennifer Hyndman, Klaus Dodds, Jo Sharp, and Simon Dalby for my PhD work after which watching the information and seeing the relevance in real-time.

The opposite huge shift in my pondering got here on the finish of my project on Captain America (circa 2013) and nationalist superheroes, which was the apotheosis of the eager about discourse and illustration I had begun in graduate faculty. I had develop into more and more uncomfortable with the argument – then de rigueur within the battle of Vital Geopolitics in opposition to extra environmentally determinist approaches to geopolitics – that geography was nothing however illustration. Whereas this after all was an necessary corrective, it sat oddly with up to date debates round local weather change, through which materials processes have been clearly essential. It was round this time I began studying work by William Connolly, which foregrounded have an effect on and materiality in ways in which spoke to what I felt I used to be lacking. I additionally came across Manuel DeLanda, Elizabeth Grosz, and different new materialists right now and people literatures wove collectively in a means that helped me take into consideration what a geopolitics would possibly appear to be that was each attentive to illustration and integrated materiality in ways in which prevented the determinism of the previous. And I’m nonetheless making an attempt to suppose that via at this time.

How can the examine of worldwide relations be told or complemented by that of your predominant self-discipline, geography?

That may be a huge query. I need to begin by saying that there’s a lot of excellent work in IR that does the sorts of issues I’m now going to attribute to Geography. However what I believe a geographic sensibility (whether or not wielded by a geographer or an IR scholar) brings to analysis is the family tree of Geography as a field-based self-discipline. Whereas Geography has most positively bought theoretical chops, there at all times stays an curiosity in how issues happen in situ. Politics doesn’t simply occur, it unfolds in particular areas and locations and people areas and locations are integral to the politics. To be truthful, IR continuously contains this type of sensibility, most clearly in latest work on practices, for example. It’s additionally why I used to be drawn to Diplomacy Research – it’s one space the place the state is approached in an empirical, grounded style. I’m positive there are others.

Your e book Popular Culture, Geopolitics, and Identity was the primary textbook to survey the connection between standard tradition and worldwide relations from a geographical perspective. What prompted this challenge?

Actually, the story is fairly boring. I wished to show a category on standard tradition and geopolitics as a result of I believed college students would actually take pleasure in it, and there wasn’t a textbook. I by no means anticipated anybody else to make use of it and I used to be shocked to see it discover a area of interest afterwards. One of the crucial gratifying issues about that e book was the variety of folks from completely different disciplines who wrote to me to say that they have been utilizing it – Media Research, IR, Geography, Cultural Research, and so forth. From that challenge I took the lesson that if in case you have an issue or are pondering via one thing, others most likely are too, even in the event you haven’t met them but. So design an answer to your drawback and with a writer’s assist, you would possibly clear up another person’s drawback too! Once I initially wrote it, I had a little bit joke in there in that I began it with a ‘Preface to the First Version’, a present of bravado that basically masked my disbelief that I had a contract to write down it in any respect. It was very gratifying to write down the second version with Daniel Bos, and to get to observe up with a ‘Preface to the Second Version’. That second version additionally allow us to incorporate a number of the more moderen pondering on materiality and have an effect on, which is so essential to the politics of standard tradition.

How has the connection between standard tradition and worldwide relations advanced lately, and the way do you suppose it’ll evolve within the coming many years?

That’s one other huge query. It’s doable to reply this in a number of methods, relying on what one means by ‘standard’ tradition and naturally additionally what you suppose ‘worldwide relations’ means. I believe my strategy to reply could be to say that ‘evolution’ is an apt flip of phrase, as a result of like evolution one thing new is at all times forming however the outdated usually stays as effectively, at the very least for some time. I believe there’s a model of standard tradition examine – knowledgeable by Marxist views of tradition, amongst different sources – which appears to be like for hidden ideologies in standard tradition texts, and tries to show them to the sunshine of day (and critique). In IR, this usually takes the type of exhibiting how popular culture ‘displays’ this or that paradigm, or US hegemony, or no matter. That concentrate on reflection, nevertheless, undermines our understanding of how energy circulates and is instantiated in any given place and time. If it merely displays the ‘actual’, then there may be actually no level in critiquing standard tradition. Relatively, if we perceive these representations and impacts as one in every of a number of circuits of energy via which US hegemony, or no matter, is produced, then it turns into worthy of critique. By means of instance, Captain America isn’t only a image of American nationalism and so forth however is a discussion board via which writers, artists, and followers negotiated the connection between reputable violence and American liberalism over time. This type of work continues, and completely ought to. Nevertheless, there’s a hazard of merely reiterating the identical sorts of critiques about the identical sorts of media.

Extra just lately, I believe now we have seen a shift from a concentrate on media artefacts to a concentrate on on a regular basis practices. That’s, as an alternative of pondering of standard tradition within the sense of company merchandise meant for mass consumption, we’d take into consideration standard tradition as a set of doings, because the lifeways of on a regular basis folks. This opens up wholly new concepts about energy, company, and the ‘the place’ of standard tradition. That’s, we’re all doing it, on a regular basis. A extra rhizomatic, perpetually-in-flux world awaits our evaluation, surging with impacts and teeming with practices. The issue with that is methodological; how can we get at this world? How can we analyse energy in such a transversal setting? These are actual challenges – I don’t deny it – however they’re mandatory inquiries to reply. And questions like this usually don’t curiosity students who’re drawn to the topic of standard tradition by their very own media pleasures and fandoms. So we will see what the longer term holds – I actually suppose there may be room sufficient for scholarship that’s media-centric and in addition scholarship that appears on the scale of the on a regular basis as the premise of political life.

How do you outline ‘performative consumption’ of standard media, and the way does it affect our understanding and follow of worldwide relations?

Properly, this type of will get at my final level. One stage within the evolution of standard tradition research is a shift from evaluation of texts to evaluation of audiences. The purpose of this shift is to recognise that which means just isn’t embedded in media, however is produced by way of practices of audiencing. It’s a essential level! Completely different folks interpret texts otherwise, based mostly on their very own life experiences, the contexts of viewing, and so forth. However performative consumption – an idea I realized about from Matt Hills – highlights that each act of media consumption is additionally a re-telling. That’s, if I watch Avengers: Endgame, I’m consuming it. However then once I speak about it later with somebody, I’m re-telling and re-mixing the story, including in my very own interpretations and so forth. That individual maybe watches the movie, with their viewing already formed by my feedback on it, and so forth. So we shouldn’t consider a particular act of viewers reception because the endpoint of a media artefact, fairly it’s a lily pad on which processes of cultural manufacturing alight for a second earlier than transferring on in a continuing turning into in any other case. So the place is energy on this cultural economic system?  Is it Disney, the maker of Avengers: Endgame? Is it me, ruining my buddy’s future viewing via my spoilers and lame jokes about how it’s best to by no means put on white time journey fits after Labor Day? The reply is sure, that’s all energy.

How does comedian e book visuality differ from different types of media as a vessel of nationalism?

Properly, I’m undecided it does. I’ve studied comedian books as a nationalist medium due to my particular curiosity within the superhero as an embodiment of the nation, and the position that comedian books had within the emergence of superheroes. To inform the story briefly, superheroes emerge in comedian books due to the significance of the visible to the style. The Nineteen Thirties have been the interval (at the very least till just lately) through which Western tradition was most fixated with fascism and the cult of the Sturdy Man, each of that are clearly embedded within the system of the superhero style. And naturally within the Nineteen Thirties the particular results weren’t very particular; drawing a person lifting a tank was loads simpler than making an attempt to movie one doing the identical. So comedian books develop into the preeminent venue (however not the one one, clearly) for telling superhero tales, at the very least till CGI actually permits for superheroes to take over the field workplace within the early 2000s. There are after all many different kinds of tales that may be advised in comedian books apart from superhero ones.

I’ve completed some eager about the precise visible type of graphic narratives, like comedian books, and the way they use juxtaposed areas to supply narrative. I believe a number of the extra experimental makes use of of the shape – I’m pondering of artists like Chris Ware, for instance – has actual political potential, or at the very least pushes us to consider the world as fragmented and at all times in want of re-formation via our practices. However that’s maybe my most culturally esoteric analysis challenge up to now and maybe the least fascinating to IR students.

What’s the affect of latest media on distributions of energy all through societies?

Oh wow – you’re hitting me with the massive questions once more. That is an nearly unattainable one for me to reply, partly due to my geographer’s affinity for the grounded and the empirical. I believe I’d reply with questions of my very own: Which media? Which societies? What sorts of energy? There’s a variety of punditry and scholarly commentary on the rise of populism, social media firms, algorithms, fragmentation and battle, and so forth. Definitely, I believe these issues have the ring of reality about them. However I additionally suppose that how energy unfolds in a particular state of affairs depends upon an entire vary of variables which can be domestically mediated. Is TikTok the identical as Twitter? Nope. Do social media in China work the identical means they do in america? Clearly not. If this appears like I’m refusing to reply the query, you’ve got glorious listening to. Inside ‘new media’ exist an entire vary of very distinctive assemblages, and my suggestion could be that anybody studying this could ignore no matter somebody like me would possibly say, choose a type of assemblages, and examine it in its baroque specificity.

In your e book Diplomatic Material: Affect, Assemblage, and Foreign Policy, you argue that the worldwide neighborhood is much less a couple of convergence of states than of media, issues, folks, and practices. In what context has this view emerged?

Properly, I suppose you would say my line of strategy there got here from my concentrate on eager about the affect of assemblage pondering on the political, and specifically on the state. There’s a variety of work eager about the state as an assemblage; it is extremely straightforward to examine a paperwork as an assemblage, particularly when there may be somebody main it. However I saved questioning why we stopped there. In actual fact, if we concentrate on the ‘relations’ in worldwide relations it turns into very straightforward to think about the world of states as a diplomatic assemblage, composed of varied vectors, and surging with numerous forces. That is too a limiting focus – we needs to be bringing within the non-state, the quasi-state, the rebel forces – however for one e book it appeared sufficient. So I started with a thought experiment: leaving apart ‘conventional’ diplomacy, what are the methods through which states are always in relation with each other, in an on a regular basis sense? What are the fabric infrastructures that they share, and which could function a vector for impacts that form overseas coverage? In brief, how might we take a number of the insights about on a regular basis geopolitics, media, and have an effect on and apply them to the ‘elite’ context of overseas coverage formulation? The solutions I got here up with – army interoperability, intelligence cooperation, diplomatic infrastructures of communication from paper to the safe video hyperlink – are absolutely simply the tip of the iceberg. However I believe they reveal a brand new mind-set about worldwide relations, one which doesn’t displace conventional diplomacy, however fairly lays it alongside all these different materials and embodied relations that compose the world of states.

What’s a very powerful recommendation you would give to younger students of Worldwide Relations?

Don’t lose your sense of humour. You’re going to wish it.

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