Identity Crisis called ‘Interdisciplinarity’

I’m currently contemplating future jobs (ok, applying for jobs) at the behest of my committee chair. And while fruitful to sit down and focus on statements of research, teaching interests, pedagogical positions, etc., what I’m really learning is this: interdisciplinary work can create an identity crisis. I might be somewhat unique in that my background is fine art, my interest lies in ‘the city’, much of my visual work engaged the built environment, with an emphasis on suburban development, obliquely engaging political economy, geography, urban and architecture theory, etc. Given that my visual work was so research-driven and I had a strong interest in writing, I found myself heading into a PhD program, with my intellectual promiscuity and a developed preference for ‘sketches’, or, in visual art terms, visual experiments that worked through intellectual ideas.

Going into the program, I imagined myself furthering my work on the single family home and really digging into the scholarship. I think I even fancied myself to work on developing a theory, based on an oxymoronic pairing of the words ‘oblique’ and ‘economy’. But my idle interest in Google Street View got the best of me, and I found myself switching topics, and with it, a whole host of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ was set aside in order to focus on a fascinating visual phenomenon that suddenly pulled together a long standing interest street engagement and the public realm, phenomenological understandings and mental maps, as well as a host of other concepts that seemed to yield questions that needed to be asked, like “what happens to the concept of the derive in the era of Google Street View?”, and “Is it smooth or striated space?”

But now I find myself fighting an easy passage into geo-web, communication and ICT driven discussions, as I am not particularly interested in those discourses, at least not to the degree in which I see myself advancing the scholarship, though my topic simply begs to go that route. And I cannot even imagine teaching foundational coursework in ‘communication’… However, I continue to think about the city and how this navigational tool might affect our engagement with it, but I find myself drifting further and further from the discourses of the actual material city, for the discourses are not directly applicable to my topic.

So as I sit and look at job postings, the few that are out there, I find myself unable to articulate a clear future research interest that would place me back in an Urban Studies realm, for I do not anticipate a continued engagement with Street View, nor do I want to be Google expert. I’m also finding myself ill-equipped to engage something like a comparative studies program, as I lack some of the foundational coursework and am not fluent in other languages. I don’t know new media or media studies well enough, nor do I necessarily wish to put myself back in the art department, for I’m not currently making work, nor do I want to rejoin the faction of gallery artists. In short, my interest in theory and the activity of playing with it has left me with a broad understanding of a whole lot without content depth in what I’m truly interested in.
Despite that, I am applying for a position in an interdisciplinary arts & sciences program, trying to fit myself into the niche they are looking to fill. But as I sit and attempt to articulate the broader themes of my research and how it phases with art, the language I really need to wield has receded. I fear that I will be entirely unpersuasive in my ‘future’ trajectory, given that it needs to fit in the space of a page, and as my ‘co-conspirator’ Keith says, ‘that sounds really hard for someone who is not known to be concise.’  While I truly believe in the value of interdisciplinarity, I continue to be haunted by the words of Julia Kristeva (paraphrased) ‘to be interdisciplinary, one must first be disciplinary’. Those words always stuck with me, for I wasn’t sure then that I believed them. But increasingly, I believe them more and more, simply for pragmatic reasons, but also for the need for an intellectual lineage.

2013 AAG Call for Papers: Geophilosophy and the planes of urban experience

In contemporary urban studies and geography there is an increasing desire to conceptualize the built environment as both a result of forces that produce, extend, and reconfigure it in countless ways, and as a social and spatial framework that hosts and affects these same forces. Working within the Spinozistic ontology that takes “relations of movement and rest” as the only constant, Deleuze and Guattari offer an explication of these intensities and lines of force that construct any given milieu, enter into complex and often ephemeral assemblages that operate according to their own logic, and produce what they call a ‘plane of immanence’ and a ‘plane of organization’. In A Thousand Plateaus, these planes form the conceptual poles between which both thought and the physical and social constructions that constitute our everyday urban reality are actualized. For example, a private developer undertaking a large-scale urban redevelopment project could assemble a particular set of discourses around sustainability, luxury living, and the creative economy that occur in everyday discussions (on the plane of immanence). In doing so, a new plane of organization is formed, and as the development proceeds, new urban forms and subjectivities that use these forms are produced.

The movement that exists between these planes follows from Spinoza’s parallelism, which claims that both thought and extension comprise bodies; for Deleuze and Guattari, the plane of immanence includes elements that have the characteristics of thought – constantly changing singularities that link up and form new, ephemeral assemblages – while the plane of organization is much less nimble and dynamic. The overlapping planes work in concert; however, the mapping of thought and extension do not necessarily sync up. From an urban studies perspective, thought is defined by the discourses that initiate movement between the planes, while extension becomes concrete world that results from the thought that accompanies it. Various intensities enter into urban assemblages, populate thought as ‘concepts’, and are manifested in the physical world as geographies that are managed and ordered to varying degrees. This session explores how these conceptual poles might provide powerful tools for understanding the urban in late capitalism if we want to understand “how it works” rather than “what it means.”

We hope to investigate the potential of the resonances that exist between the two planes, as a means to understand the ways in which the built environment is perpetually changing, and how we as researchers and practitioners might alter its trajectory. We welcome submissions that explore the physical construction of these planes, the ‘image of thought’ of the 21st century, the disconnects that take place between these parallel planes, as well as the various acts immanent to the plane itself, such as:

deterritorialization/reterritorialization – radical rethinking of existing strategies for urban development or resistance to it

abstract machines – the ways in which language used to describe cities urban topics is normalized, co-opted, or redefined

lines of intensity – various social movements across the planes that have the potential to open up or foreclose possibilities for new assemblages and alternative futures

micro-fascisms – instances of everyday social and spatial practices that reinforce particular planes of organization and inhibit movements toward an increasingly open, equal, and democratic society

subjectification – exploring the shifting ways in which people identify with particular areas of the city, either consciously or unconsciously

changing affective states – investigating how we are materially changed by our interactions in and with urban environments

the continuous movement between smooth and striated space – studies of the tension between cultivating spaces of difference and the top down management of space

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words by October 15th to Please follow the abstract guidelines for the AAG, and include PIN if already registered. Notifications will be sent by October 20th. Registration for the AAG must be completed by October 24th, 2012.

Organized by
Cheryl Gilge and Keith Harris
Ph. D. Program of the Built Environment
College of Built Environments
University of Washington