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What we talk about when we talk about depth 2

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: Nicholas Anderman, Xander Lenc, Anya Kaplan-Seem
Chairs: Anya Kaplan-Seem


Recent scholarship on the ocean (Starosielski 2015, Sharpe 2016), mining and drilling (Appel et al. 2015, Klinger 2017), the anthropocene (Yusoff 2018) and urban infrastructure (Anand 2017) theorizes the politics of sub-surface worlds. Bringing these oceanic and terrestrial depths into view has revealed new spaces, materials, and relations with which to practice a critical, politically trenchant earth-writing. Yet the notion of depth itself is rarely interrogated.

We propose that depth is more than a linguistic trope or simple spatial signifier. Though the term refers to real places in the world, depth is always relational: the depths are only deep relative to some surface. Thinking beyond verticality (Graham and Hewitt 2012), beyond volumetric space (Weizman 2007, Elden 2013, Billé 2018), and “beyond metaphor” (Shalem 2017: 56), we want to suggest that the deep constitutes a semiotic landscape that is resolutely material, but always exceeds conventional materialist readings. Deep spaces matter: they are simultaneously material and meaningful. We seek papers that engage critically and creatively with the mattering of chthonic landscapes, defined broadly.

Encoded in the concept of depth are all kinds of lingering associations and latent meanings. Hence, we may speak of deep time, deep sleep, deep ecology, deep learning, deep history, the deep state, skin deep, diving deep, depth of character, depth of perception, depth of field, depth of meaning, etc, etc. To dig down deep, in (and beyond) the context of geology and archaeology, means to move backwards through time, to seek after origins: our ancestral dead are buried in the earth or the sea and decompose at depth. Shrouded in darkness, deep places are nevertheless alight with religious associations. Hell lies beneath, but so, perhaps, does truth: “In reality, men know nothing; for truth is in an abyss” (Democritus, as cited in Diogenes Laërtius 2018: 471). Conversely, the deeps are a rich source of heuristic power and (self-)knowledge: “Teach depth,” instructs Édouard Glissant. “But depth is not of mystery; for us, it is in keeping with continuity.” (2010 [1969]: 227; see also Harney and Moten 2013).

How, we ask, are these (and many other) conceptualizations of depth tied to the deep places of the earth? If, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak teaches us, thought must be “written on the planet as planet” (2012: 349), how does thinking operate beneath the planetary surface? How have the depths oriented our thinking? Echoing and extending recent efforts to proliferate geographical theory in new directions (Antipode Editorial Collective 2019), we invite submissions that take seriously depth’s (geo)philosophical resonances, political significances, knowledge-making capacities, and affective power. In particular, we welcome speculative research that theorizes depth in relation to: benthic, thalassic, and abyssal space; stratigraphy and striation; world(liness) and home(lessness); theological notions of space; race, gender, and bodies; sound and the senses; time, temporality, and intensity; shipwreck, the Naufragocene, and the Chthulucene; darkness, depression, transgression, and wounding; death, mourning, and memory; nostalgia and longing.
We intend to organize multiple paper sessions, depending on quantity and quality of submissions, followed by a panel discussion. To participate, please submit an abstract of ~250 words to Nicholas Anderman (, Xander Lenc (, and Anya Kaplan-Seem ( by Wednesday, October 30, 2019. We will respond promptly.

Anand, Nikhil. 2017. Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai. Durham: Duke University Press.
Antipode Editorial Collective, eds. 2019. Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50. Hoboken and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
Appel, Hannah, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts, eds. 2015. Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Billé, Franck. 2019. “Volumetric Sovereignty: A Forum,” Society & Space, Accessed 8 August 2019.
Diogenes Laërtius. 2018. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Translated by Pamela Mensch. New York: Oxford University Press.
Elden, Stuart. 2013. “Secure the Volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power,” Political Geography 34: 35-51.
Glissant, Édouard. 2010 [1969]. Poetic Intention. Translated by Nathanaël. Callicoon, NY: Nightboat Books.
Graham, Stephen and Lucy Hewitt. 2012. “Getting off the ground: On the politics of urban verticality,” Progress in Human Geography 37.1: 72-92.
Harney, Stefano and Fred Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson: Minor Compositions.
Klinger, Julie Michelle. 2017. Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Shalem, Avinoam. 2017. “Against Gravity,” Cabinet 64: 54-61, Accessed 9 August 2019.
Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2012. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.
Starosielski, Nicole. 2015. The Undersea Network. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Weizman, Eyal. 2007. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London: Verso.
Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Nicholas Anderman*, University of California - Berkeley, Oceanic x/y/z: seabed mapping and the surface/depth relation 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Anna Friz*, University of California, Santa Cruz, For a Broad Now: Multiple Worlds on the Salar de Atacama 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Xander Lenc*, , Prison below the Surface: The Subterranean Spatial Logic of the Penitentiary 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Thomas Nail*, , Kinetic Depths 15 12:00 AM
Discussant Julie Klinger Boston University 15 12:00 AM

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