This fresh appraisal of philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s work foregrounds the geographical aspects of one of the leading social and political theorists of the 20th century.
Margath A. Walker considers how Marcusean philosophies might challenge the way we think about space and politics and create new sensibilities. Applying them to contemporary geopolitics, digital infrastructure and issues like resistance and immigration, the book shows how social change has been stifled, and how Marcuse’s philosophies could provide the tools to overturn the status quo.
She demonstrates Marcuse’s relevance to individuals and society, and finds this important theorist of opposition can point the way to resisting oppressive forces within contemporary capitalism.
Chapter 5 stages an encounter between Marcuse and more recent thinking framed under the broad heading of ‘post’. Geography has sometimes narrated Marxism against poststructuralism and the post-political. It is not surprising then that Marcuse’s contributions have largely been interpreted as distant and antagonistic in relation to geography’s more recent theoretical strands. Chapter 5 points to the lines of connection that could be fruitful for a revolutionary politics by arguing that Marcuse’s work is more nuanced, less totalizing, and more explicitly scalar than previously interpreted.
The final chapter advocates a ‘meso’ socio-spatial positionality which retains the oppositional politics so crucial to Marcuse’s own work and simultaneously diversifies the Marxist project. How, for example, can Marcuse’s adapted philosophy help us to understand the prospects of technologically driven social movements such as #metoo? In this chapter, the major tenets of the book are applied to everyday circumstances in order to evaluate the possibilities for the production of new spaces of political action.
Chapter 2 explains how the status quo maintains its grip on society through the spatial containment of social change. First, the chapter lays out three broad and interrelated concepts. Instrumental reason looks at how reason is enlisted in ever more pervasive networks of administrative discipline and control. One-dimensionality examines the slow process of quieting dissent, along with the implementation of conformity through economic and psychological means. Technological rationality goes beyond technology as an agglomeration of mere technical devices to explore the process wherein domination is rationalized. The chapter then applies these abstract concepts to concrete examples by drawing on real-world occurrences such as the geopolitics of bordering and recent US political events.
In later years, Marcuse focused on unrealized potentialities, and the possibilities of imaginative fantasy. I expand the radical potential of Marcuse’s formulation through two concrete examples: Wikipedia and Aztlán. Chapter 4 draws on Eros and Civilization and Marcuse’s other mature works to elaborate a topological understanding of utopia. Topology, with its language of folding and openness, jolts us out of the ‘is’ into multiple planes of plenitude. The approach described in this chapter – a triadic topology – translates Marcuse’s utopia as right here, not yet, and over and has direct relevance for notions of oppositional space and prefigurative politics.
At its core, Marcusean Critical Theory emphasizes the incorporation of revolutionary politics, pushing us towards different possibilities which negate present-day power relations. Chapter 3 explores the reconstructive aspects of Marcuse’s writings through current P/politics. Using ‘Twitter politics’ (which I define as the call for social change by digital means) and the Open Borders movement as examples, I assess how and whether these instances of political action enact preconditions for liberation, which include: the uses of immanent critique; the power of negative thinking; and the politics of refusal. These three constructs enable new spaces of resistance, reflecting the quest for the production of alternative subjectivities through praxis.
How does Herbert Marcuse help us to understand contemporary geographies? In turn, what can a geographic perspective provide to Marcuse? Marcuse’s political and theoretical legacy hinges on several overlapping intellectual pursuits. Chapter 1 begins by establishing the theoretical and contextual grounding for the pairing of Herbert Marcuse with geographical concerns. Marcuse rarely wrote very explicitly about geography, thus, the chapter introduces readers to the idea of a Marcusean-inspired geography, suggesting that such an engagement provides a rich approach to space, politics, and concepts of human liberation. The chapter draws attention to the continuing relevance of his writings in these times.