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Professor Don Mitchell


The Department of Geography is committed to bringing internationally renowned scholars to Cambridge, under our Distinguished Visitors Scheme. Our most recent guest was Professor Don Mitchell of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, who came to Cambridge for the first time in his career, giving a public lecture, a research seminar, and a graduate seminar. Professor Mitchell has made key contributions in a number of fields, particularly in cultural geography and cultural theory, in his focus on labour and the political economy of landscape, and in relation to struggles over urban public space.

Professor Mitchell's public lecture, on 'Revolting New York: How Riots, Uprisings, and Revolutions Shape the Urban Landscape' brought us an engagement with New York's long historical geography of revolt, from indigenous risings to Black Lives Matter in our own day. Profusely illustrated but also methodologically and conceptually innovative, this excerpt from collaborative research inspired by Don's mentor and friend Neil Smith wrote collective resistance, often violent, back into the landscape of the American metropolis.

The following day's seminar, 'Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital', examined the question of why homelessness in the US occurs and why it has grown so quickly in recent years – and why authorities have adopted specific policies to both produce and police homelessness. Returning to Marxist urban theory, Don makes a compelling case for understanding 'anti-homelessness' as a phenomenon of class and race under neoliberal capitalism.

Finally, in a seminar ably organised by graduates Adam Bobbette and Sam Strong, Professor Mitchell gave his time to lead postgraduates in a consideration of 'public geographies' and the possibilities for scholars' activism outside the academy.

The Department would like to record its thanks to Don for his inspiring scholarship and example of political engagement, characteristically laced with wit and warmth. We wish him all the best in his upcoming move to Uppsala University.

8th – 10th November, 2016

Don Mitchell

As part of the Distinguished Visitors Scheme, Professor Don Mitchell (Distinguished Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University), will be visiting the Department from Tuesday 8th November to Thursday 10th November 2016.

Don Mitchell’s research is in three areas:

  • the theorisation and historical study of the production of landscape, particularly as it relates to labourers and the working classes. Much of his work in this area is historical (early to mid 20th century), with the goal of reclaiming the importance of workers’ lives in the making of landscapes. Recently Don has begun to look at contemporary landscapes of migratory labour in California.
  • the production and meaning of public space, particularly as it is transformed in attempts to control the behaviour of homeless, other marginalised people and protesters. Much of this work is contemporary, focusing specifically on the relationship between law, rights and public space.
  • theories of culture, particularly as they have been developed in Marxism and Geography. Don is concerned with examining and explaining the ways that ‘culture’ has become a primary arena of social struggle, and a principle for exercising power.

Timetable of events

Revolting New York: How Riots, Uprisings, and Revolutions Shape the Urban Landscape

Revolting New York: How Riots, Uprisings, and Revolutions Shape the Urban Landscape

Tuesday 8th November, 5:15pm, Large Lecture Theatre
Public Lecture

The Harlem Renaissance writer Alain Locke suggested that the 1935 Harlem riot – and by extension other moments of upheaval – was “a revealing
flash of lightning.” Revolting New York tells the story of the city not only as it has been by such lightning flashes of resistance, but also
how it has been remade. Riots, revolts, uprisings, and revolutions have been a near constant and decisive force in shaping the landscape of
New York City, from the revolt of the Munsee Indians in the 1640s to Black Lives Matter in the present. Professor Mitchell shows how one of
the determinants of the morphology and meaning of the urban landscape is the political and social tumult that has determined flows of
investment, neighbourhood restructuring, and the everyday life of the metropolis.

Lecture – poster

Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital

Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital

Wednesday 9th November, 5pm, Small Lecture Theatre
Department Seminar

Two recent and contrasting events – New York City’s ongoing panic about the presence of homeless people on the streets of Manhattan, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s intervention into a lawsuit in Boise, Idaho, that supported the rights of homeless people to “camp” when no shelter beds are available – raise questions about why homelessness persists (and grows) in American cities, why its criminalization has been a consistent response, why the Department of Justice is intervening now against this criminalization, and why this matters to how urban faultlines are formed. The answers are rooted in how capital circulates into – and out of – the spaces (the built environment) of the city, as well as how class struggle, especially intraclass struggle shapes that circulation.

Seminar – poster

Don Mitchell

Doctoral Session, Seminar Room

Thursday 10th November, 11am
(Sandwich lunch at 1pm)

Graduate students and post-doctoral staff will be contacted with details of the reading required for this session.

More details on these events will follow shortly.