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date: 18 November 2019


Abstract and Keywords

In his 2004 book , Derek Gregory examines the “war on terror” and its colonial antecedents. One of the most influential books of the last decade for postcolonial studies, looks at the “new imperialism,” the global “security mentality,” and the post-Cold-War shift from geopolitical modes of state control to biopolitical modes of population containment. Drawing on the ideas put forward in , this article explores new imperialism and its biopolitical implications. It foregrounds the work of the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whose “metaphysics of power” informs the “war on terror” in a variety of interrelated ways. It considers how and why postcolonial criticism is increasingly moving to address concerns of biopolitical sovereignty, law and human rights, and the contentious relationship between them. It also discusses liberal imperialism and the geopolitics of memory in the context of the colonial present, security issues in the context of the “war on terror,” and contemporary issues of biopolitics such as the representation of modern-day refugees.

Keywords: The Colonial Present, Derek Gregory, war on terror, new imperialism, security mentality, Giorgio Agamben, liberal imperialism, geopolitics, colonial present, biopolitics

The Colonial Present (2004), the Canadian-based social geographer Derek Gregory’s magisterial study of the ‘war on terror’ and its colonial antecedents, has been one of the most influential books of the last decade for postcolonial studies, with its influence spreading far beyond the discipline in which it originated. While it is indebted to Fanon and Said, still widely accepted today as being the two foundational figures for postcolonial criticism, The Colonial Present is very much a book for our times, and its underlying concerns—the ‘new imperialism’ (Harvey 2003), the global ‘security mentality’ (Duffield 2007), the post-Cold-War shift from geopolitical modes of state control to biopolitical modes of population containment—have helped bring postcolonial studies into animated conversation with the contemporary globalized world (see also Part V of this volume). Gregory’s engagement with postcolonialism is oblique but never distancing or dismissive; thus, while he permits himself the routine put-down of describing the postcolonial in terms of its ‘precocious prefix’ (7), he also suggests that the force of the term has been in seeking to account for different colonialisms at different times, and for the ‘heterogeneous temporalities’ (7) through which multiple pasts condense into a single present, and the ‘lazy separations between past, present and future’ (7) are interrogated along with the western teleology that lends them ideological support (see Hindess in Part IV of this volume; also Brennan in Part I).

Four brief points can be made here about Gregory’s book, each of which is taken up in more detail in subsequent essays in this section. First, the colonial present is associated with, but not reducible to, both earlier paradigms of neocolonialism and recent designations of the new imperialism. Like Fanon, still probably the most lucid analyst of neocolonialism, Gregory insists that the colonial world is violently divided, both physically and ideologically (Fanon 1961); and like Harvey, perhaps the most persuasive commentator on the new imperialism, he sees the contemporary world order in terms of a ‘new global narrative in which the power to narrate is vested in a particular constellation of power and knowledge within the United States of America’ (Gregory 2004: 16; see also Harvey 2003). However, unlike either Fanon or Harvey, Gregory locates the colonial present fair and square within a continuing global modernity—a colonial modernity that ‘produces its other, verso to recto, as a way of at once producing and privileging itself’ (4).

This ushers in my second point: that the colonial present is as much a geographical as a historical phenomenon. Produced and reinforced by Saidean ‘imaginative geographies’ that demarcate boundaries—less real than imagined—between self and other, ‘their’ space and ‘ours’, it contributes to a nested complex of ‘architectures of enmity’ that constitutes the world on which it claims to comment and reflect (Gregory 2004: 17; see also (p. 171) Said 1978). These geographies operate within a culturally and economically globalized world in which space can expand as much as it contracts, and where what Gregory calls ‘the proliferating partitions of colonial modernity’ (252) become the means by which those ideologically differentiated zones that operate under the code words ‘Afghanistan’, ‘Iraq’, and ‘Palestine’—his three main case studies in The Colonial Present—have been strategically refashioned in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York (19).

Third, and as implied above, the ‘war on terror’ is—as Gregory himself puts it-‘one of the central modalities through which the colonial present is articulated’ (13). ‘America’, also a coded term, is of course very much at the centre of this; and indeed one of the axioms of The Colonial Present is that the United States, though by no means a new imperial power, has become emblematic of twenty-first-century capitalist imperialism, and that the two most immediate consequences of ‘9/11’ have been to facilitate and consolidate American imperial outreach while producing a heightened, inevitably security-oriented projection of America as a ‘homeland’—a fiercely protected national space (2004: 50; see also Harvey 2003; Smith 2003). To some extent, then, it might be said that Gregory’s work has been representative of a shift in the object of postcolonial critique from European-derived to American-led imperialisms, or, to put this less charitably, that postcolonial critique has recently performed a slide from the paradoxical Eurocentrism of its ‘first-wave’ critical insights to the equally self-privileging Americo-centrism of its ‘second-wave’ global-capitalist debates (Mukherjee 2006; see also the General Introduction to this volume).

Less contentious, perhaps, is the evidence of a further shift from geopolitical to biopolitical considerations of imperial power in the context of what Mark Duffield calls the ‘wider security mentality that is [currently] interconnecting the policing of international migration, the strengthening of homeland social cohesion, and the development of fragile states’ in a radically unsettled, precariously interconnected world (2005: 157; see also Sharp in this section of the volume). Duffield is too hasty in spelling an end to ‘the world of independent states’, which he nostalgically links to a heroic era of decolonization, and in seeing this ‘brave but short-lived world [as having] given way to what is perhaps the real heir of decolonization: an innovative, unstable and circulatory “world of peoples”’ in which alliances are primarily biopolitical rather than geopolitical in their focus, even though geopolitics and biopolitics remain—as in earlier colonial periods—symbiotically entwined (143–4). More convincing, however, is his portrayal of the dangers and uncertainties that this fundamentally unstable world has created, and of the various protective actions—including those endorsed by what he provocatively but accurately calls a ‘newly respectable’ interventionist liberal imperialism—to which these dangers and uncertainties, sometimes strategically exaggerated, have given rise (144; see also Gopal in this section of the volume).

One of the tasks The Colonial Present sets itself is to engage critically with this particular modality of new imperialism and its profound biopolitical implications. And one strategy it employs is to foreground the work of the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whose ‘metaphysics of power’ Gregory sees as informing the ‘war on terror’ in a number of different if interrelated ways: through the establishment of (p. 172) punitive ‘non-places’, e.g. Guantánamo Bay, where the procedures and regulations of international law can be disregarded (see Morton’s chapter); through strategies of separation and containment in which Agamben’s ‘space of the exception’ is given physical form; through mobile borders that justify continued practices of occupation and encroachment, suggesting that ‘spaces of the exception [themselves] constantly move and multiply’ (Gregory 2004: 128); and through the ‘indiscriminate categorisation of whole populations [so as to legitimate] the indiscriminate use of violence against them’ (143)—one example, this last, of the many ways in which sovereign power establishes the exclusionary basis it needs to protect and privilege itself.

Several chapters in this section of the volume are indebted, explicitly or implicitly, to Agamben, although they also test the limits of his theories, which can easily appear over-abstract and not sensitive enough—insensitive even—to situated knowledges of, or culturally specific ways of being in, the world (see, for example, Smith and Turner’s chapter). It seems appropriate in this context that the lead-off chapter, Stephen Morton’s, should turn at least in part to Agamben in order to explain how and why postcolonial criticism is increasingly moving to address concerns of biopolitical sovereignty, law, and human rights and the fractious relationship between these. This relationship, Morton usefully suggests, should be integral to any attempt to understand the workings of colonial power, both in the past and in the present, with his own case studies mostly being drawn, like Gregory’s, from those militarized theatres of operations that are Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq.

Morton is particularly interested in what might be called genealogies of the colonial present in which contemporary truth claims (e.g. about terrorism) either disguise or distort the historical relationships behind them, and the perception of moral duty (e.g. in combating terrorism) may easily become the pretext for violent colonial intervention, as demonstrated in the siege of Gaza or the war in Iraq. Following Gregory following Agamben, Morton sees Guantánamo Bay—a paradigmatic space of exception—as a similarly leading instance of law in the greater service of colonial power and the wider context of the ‘war on terror’, citing Gregory’s loose likening of Taliban fighters, al-Qaeda terrorists, and Afghan refugees and civilians to Agamben’s exclusionary figures of ‘bare life’. Parsing Gregory, Morton shows how detention camps such as Guantánamo Bay ‘disclose the violent political foundations of the modern liberal-democratic nation-states’ such as the US, thereby confirming Agamben’s link between political sovereignty and the state of exception; it is through examples like these, Morton believes, that postcolonial studies can and must engage with colonial narratives of the law and the stereotypical cultural representations that underlie them—stereotypes that also inform present-day Islamophobia, which lazily and often dangerously associates Muslims with ‘terrorism, Sharia law, the practice of veiling, and the preaching of global jihad’. Stereotypes like these may be rife, but they are socially and historically situated; and by insisting, Said-style, on the ‘specific historical function of cultural representation in the maintenance of colonial sovereignty’, Morton succeeds in suggesting both the possibilities opened up by postcolonialism’s dialogue with Agamben and postcolonialism’s role in pointing out the contextual limitations of Agamben’s thought.

(p. 173) A further potential corrective to Agamben is issued by life-writers such as Moazzam Begg, whose 2006 prison memoir Enemy Combatant graphically describes the day-to-day realities of the author’s life in a US detention camp, with these experiences implicitly being set against those decontextualized discourses of terrorism that collapse differences of place and history, e.g. in the creation and consolidation of exclusionary ‘non-places’ like Guantánamo or the ubiquitous ‘security zones’ of the West Bank. Protective spaces like these indicate that, in the colonial present, ‘the control … of judicial order serves to legitimate military violence and occupation under the guise of [upholding] liberal values such as democracy and human rights’—a vivid instance of liberal interventionist imperialism in which the ‘very discourse of human rights [is adopted] as a technique of governmentality’, and ‘international law [works] to support western political hegemony’—as it continues to do in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and, even after military withdrawal, Iraq. Drawing on other literary and cinematic examples such as Kamila Shamsie’s epic novel Burnt Shadows (2009) or Annemarie Jacir’s short film Like Twenty Impossibles (2003), Morton convincingly shows how imaginative work, while not solving material problems, may yet offer creative alternatives to a colonial present in which humanitarianism serves military ends and state-sanctioned violence has become normative; in such unpromising contexts, cultural narratives may ‘shed light on the conditions of possibility for justice in a way that the law cannot’.

Liberal imperialism in the context of the colonial present is also the subject of Priya Gopal’s pleasingly combative chapter, which sees a form of ‘hard-headed liberalism’—at once justifying intervention in the name of freedom and licensing the restriction of freedoms—as refiguring the west’s conflicted relationship to both the rest of the world and itself. Liberal imperialism, for Gopal, recasts empire in the language of democracy and human rights, draping itself in new ideological clothing; however, the connection between liberal political thought and empire is hardly new, and indeed—as Uday Mehta pithily puts it in the context of the British Empire—‘the liberal involvement with the British empire [was] coeval with liberalism itself’ (quoted in Gopal below; see also Stovall in Part I of this volume).

Contemporary liberal imperialism, Gopal suggests in keeping with Gregory and Morton, is predominantly American despite its British antecedents. Making the case for a ‘restitution of western civilizational values under the aegis of a relatively benign imperium’, this kind of imperialism, despite the different forms it takes, shares several polemical credos: that ‘9/11’ was a political turning point; that it irrevocably confirmed a new enemy in the shape of Islamic fundamentalism; and that Islamic fundamentalism—which is itself a form of imperialism—urgently needs to be countered and conquered by liberalism, which rests, and can only rest, in the simultaneously benevolent and belligerent hands of the US.

Gopal goes on to identify ‘two complementary prototypes for the present-day liberal intelligentsia’, which she calls—polemically in her turn—the Renegade Liberal Prophet and the Self-Representing Native Acolyte. The former (the late Christopher Hitchens is cited here as a prominent example) is a fierce advocate of American-based civilizationist values; is hostile to ‘old-school’ anti-colonialism and multiculturalism; and claims to (p. 174) espouse a hard-headed, common-sensical attitude towards a deeply divided and dangerous world. The latter is perhaps best seen in the figure of the self-representing Muslim woman relaying her critical views of Islam back to the west and, in so doing, allaying western liberal anxieties about military intervention and the imposition of western values by accepting—or at least appearing to accept—that there is no logical alternative to these values, either in the democratic heartlands of America (their ultimate origin and repository) or in the benighted autocratic systems that regulate social mores ‘at home’.

Gopal’s primary example here is Azar Nafisi’s popular memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), a heavily stylized account of everyday upper-middle-class life in post-Revolution Iran, whose coarse aims—only slightly sweetened by the book’s refined worldly rhetoric—consist in exposing the continuing tyrannies of Islam while triumphantly claiming the moral high ground for the secular west. A second literary example—this time a male voice—is Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner, also published in 2003, which Gopal ‘outs’ as a redemptive morality tale doubling as a pro-American vehicle for liberal colonial discourse, and opposing a redeemable version of American ‘flawed goodness’ to ‘geneaologically allied forms of evil’ (one of the novel’s several facile connections is between the Taliban and the Nazis) that are irredeemable and absolute.

One might object here that Gopal’s angry rhetoric rehearses the same journalistic jingoism she seeks to expose, but her basic argument is surely a good one: that the relationship between liberalism and empire, which has deep historical roots, lies at the heart of the colonial present; and that latter-day liberal imperialism, combining as it does the cold logic of the market with the impassioned attack on ‘illiberal’ values worldwide, continues to justify what Hamid Dabashi calls the ‘manufacturing [of] consent and [the] discarding [of] history at the speed of one major military operation every two years’—an object lesson in late-capitalist amnesia that postcolonial studies has not remembered particularly well either, and that it would do well to confront.

Jo Sharp’s chapter addresses this amnesia head-on by examining what we might call—loosely adapting Gregory—the geopolitics of memory in the colonial present (Gregory 2004; see also Rothberg in Part III of this volume). Like Gregory, Sharp sees geopolitical issues in terms of their temporal as well as spatial components. She looks, accordingly, to trace some of the different ways in which colonial modernity produces and privileges itself by fashioning others through the multiple processes of colonial memory. These processes, she suggests (again following Gregory), can be broken down into two strands: colonial nostalgia, which ‘idealizes the difference of the other’; and colonial amnesia, where ‘otherness is seen as deviation, to be subjugated and controlled’. Most of the rest of Sharp’s chapter is devoted to showing these two processes at work in recent constructions of Africa and African peoples in the context of the ‘war on terror’. As she reminds us, the ‘war on terror’, popularly associated with the Middle East (see also Hazbun in this section), arguably has its origins on the African continent, with the simultaneous bombings of US embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) in August 1998. The bombings, instantly linked to al-Qaeda, produced an equally instant response, with violent US air strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan; causing extensive collateral damage (p. 175) in both cases, these led to localized arguments that America was effectively creating its own enemies ‘through the interventionist and imperialist policies [it was enacting] around the world’.

Sharp’s primary contention is that the ‘war on terror’ has rekindled a western geopolitical imaginary of Africa organized around the colonialist tropes of ‘absence’ and ‘lack’ and facilitated by colonial amnesia. This imaginary is linked in turn to what Sharp calls, following Duffield (2007) and others, the ‘security-development nexus’. The threat of terrorism in Africa has led, particularly post-‘9/11’, to an intensification of security concerns and a clear linkage of these concerns to western development initiatives, with some of the classic tropes of colonial nostalgia (e.g. the white man’s burden) re-emerging in the humanitarian discourses surrounding poverty reduction and foreign aid. At the same time, an increasing shift from geo- to biopolitical registers is evidenced in draconian regimes of development governance through which entire populations, seen à la Agamben to be ‘beyond politics’, are administratively managed; where routine violence is committed in ‘civilizationist’ interests; and where western governmental and non-governmental organizations become increasingly entangled in African state affairs.

As Sharp puts it starkly, development under these circumstances is ‘first and foremost about the security of the west, about managing populations surplus to the needs of international capitalism “over there” from threatening the privileges of those who benefit from it “over here”’. This is not the only possible scenario, however, and Sharp ends, much as does Morton, by locating alternatives to the colonial present in, e.g., collaborative African reworkings of modernity or the shared communitarian hopes of the ‘Arab Spring’. While recent instances such as these, as Sharp rightly warns, always run the risk of being romanticized, they still indicate the potential of a ‘postcolonial ethics’ to construct alternatives to a dominant western geopolitical imaginary of Africa that works towards perpetuating the colonial present by strategically forgetting the lessons of the colonial past.

Like Sharp, Waleed Hazbun—a political scientist by training—emphasizes security issues in the context of the ‘war on terror’. For Hazbun, as for Sharp, the predominant geopolitical imaginary in this context is that of the US, which continues to steer global political events in its own national interests. His focus is on the Middle East, where Arab actors—even in the wake of the recent uprisings—have rarely been seen in American eyes as shaping the regional or international order. Hazbun provides a corrective account of the Obama administration’s self-consciously ‘progressive’ reaction to recent events in Egypt and elsewhere, resituating this in the context of a liberal discourse driven, like the civilizationism it ostensibly opposes, by both residual and renewed fears of ‘the rising power of Third World states’ (see Gopal in this section; also Mignolo and Sayyid in Part I). The Obama administration, Hazbun suggests, may officially reject the Huntington thesis, but it still ‘privileges US-dominated forms of global order, ignores their hierarchical power relations, and fails to fully recognize the agency of Middle East states and societies as actors in the international system’. This liberal order is still driven, Hazbun insists, by displaced forms of security-conscious neorealism that overlook the (p. 176) constitutive role of the US in producing insecurity in the Middle East. Following Gregory, Hazbun sees such an order as having clear colonial antecedents. Even Obama’s recent, explicitly stated support for political self-determination in Egypt can be read within this larger context as the latest strategic attempt to ‘craft a new narrative of American relations with the Arab world’. This ‘new’ narrative, on closer inspection, turns out not to be so new after all; and, like the ones it is conveniently imagined as replacing, it is driven by anxieties over the US’s diminishing power to shape an increasingly multipolar world.

Hazbun ends by suggesting a way forward. Invoking Gregory again, he calls for genuinely new geopolitical imaginaries that are locally based, popularly driven, and democratically shared among a variety of national and transnational actors that are not necessarily beholden to the state (see also the General Introduction to this volume). These imaginaries, he concludes, are unlikely to find much favour with the US, which seems indisposed to developing a ‘more inclusive regional security framework that might address the varied interests of both its allies and its rivals’. Whatever the case, a US-dominated liberal order seems likely only to increase the insecurity it claims to counter, leaving the US with some hard decisions to make about whether it wants to ‘exert influence through persuasion and diplomacy’, or whether it wants to (and can) return to the option it perhaps never fully abandoned in the first place, that of ‘impos[ing] control through projecting power’.

The last two chapters in the section return to contemporary issues of biopolitics, invoking but also criticizing Agamben. David Farrier and Patricia Tuitt’s chapter centres on the representation of modern-day refugees, whom they seem ready to see as matching Agamben’s description of contemporary biopolitical relations, but only in so far as they also test the limits of a violent biopolitical order in which they, like the colonial present that contains them, are inextricably enmeshed. Farrier and Tuitt’s contribution takes the innovative form of a dialogue between a literary critic (Farrier) and a legal scholar (Tuitt), and much of the chapter alternates, accordingly, between abstract considerations of legal theory and situated case studies drawn mostly from Australia and the UK. At times the two are conspicuously mismatched, but at others, they come together to perform a kind of critical montage that splices graphic images of, e.g., detention-camp lip sewing with cerebral considerations of the refugee as—to list just a few examples, several of them indebted to Agamben—a ‘new subaltern’, or an ‘incarnation of rightlessness’, or an ‘archetype of the state of exception’, or an ‘embodiment of the crisis of political community’, or a combination of the above (see Morton in this section; also Dhawan and Randeria in Part V).

As these examples suggest, ‘the refugee’ is nothing if not an overdetermined figure, but to their credit Farrier and Tuitt are well aware of the limitations of this kind of high-abstract thinking, which runs the risk of further reinforcing the already stereotypical perception of refugees as helpless victims of the modern security state. They are also conscious of the risk of over-relying on Agamben. Tuitt, for example, finds at least as much value in Fanon’s ‘native’ as in Agamben’s ‘refugee’ for the theorization of agency in contexts of violent expropriation and disempowerment, and more use in Fanon than in Agamben for setting up those oppositional forms of critical thinking—those ‘minor (p. 177) jurisprudences’, in Peter Goodrich’s legalistic terms (Goodrich 1996)—that characterize postcolonial thought.

However, there is more at stake here than just critique for, as Tuitt suggests, both Fanon’s ‘native’ and Agamben’s ‘refugee’ register nothing less than the attempt to reinvent modern political relations, e.g. by gesturing towards unmarked forms of ‘pure’ or ‘absolute’ violence which, terrifying to behold, may yet sever the bonds that tether violence to the law, and both of these to the foundational principles, themselves violent, of the modern nation state. This envisioning of the refugee is very different, Farrier and Tuitt contend, from the grand spectacles of disaster into which global media representations of refugees are routinely co-opted, at least some of which convey the spectral image of the refugee as death-in-waiting, seeking to ‘claim a share of the earth [only to find] a share of the grave’. What is needed, Farrier and Tuitt suggest, is a way to think refugees free from the destructive biopolitical categories in which they continue to be captured. The historicizing function of postcolonial critique is vital to this exercise. However, whether it is enough is a moot point (see Abeysekara in Part IV of this volume); and perhaps the best a postcolonial approach can do is to accord the refugee’s ‘desperate acts’ the dignity they deserve, and to offer in the process ‘a glimpse of future political horizons in which these same acts … we sometimes tend to dismiss as impotent recover their legitimate force’.

The section’s final chapter, by the New Zealand-based academics Jo Smith and Stephen Turner, also offers perhaps its furthest-reaching critique of Agamben in the context of the colonial present. Smith and Turner’s more immediate emphasis is on the continuing reluctance to accord sovereignty to Māori despite the nation’s official commitment to biculturalism. Part of the problem, Smith and Turner suggest, is a persistently colonial mindset in New Zealand that adheres to imported western political models within which Indigenous people are included (co-opted) and excluded at the same time. This mindset has recently manifested itself in different ways: in ongoing battles over native title; in media wars over the 2011 Rugby World Cup; and perhaps above all in the dogged adherence to political models of citizenship and statehood into which Māori are conscripted, despite their different, self-monitored understandings of identity, law, and not least, sovereignty itself. As Smith and Turner show, western political understandings of sovereignty and the law are at odds with what they call Māori ‘consubstantial sovereignty’, which is based on the mutually constitutive co-presence of ‘lands, waters, and peoples’, and which operates according to wholly different imaginative geographies than those that govern colonial (settler-invader) conceptions of space and of the relationship between people, place, and time.

This is the basis, as well, for their disagreement with Agamben. For the ‘originary political relation of western politics’ that Agamben’s work challenges is confronted, in turn, with an Indigenous political ontology that is both fundamentally incompatible with it and indisputably anterior to it in terms of the ‘long histories’ of First peoples it instantiates and performs. As Smith and Turner succinctly put it: ‘The consubstantial political ontology of lands, waters, and peoples gives the process of Indigenous exclusion a sovereign agency that exceeds the originary political relation described by Agamben, or at least cannot be recuperated by it’. This agency is related to what Smith (p. 178) and Turner call a form of ‘Indigenous presencing’ through which prior relations to the land are continuously reasserted—an ontological assertion that cannot be incorporated into, or explained away by, the regulatory procedures of western law.

It is worth emphasizing here that Smith and Turner do not see this ontology in separatist terms; Māori, after all, have been shaped by centuries of colonial encounter with Pākehā (New Zealanders of European origin). However, they point out forcefully that ‘long-standing Māori collectives (tangata whenua) do not need Pākehā to tell them who they are’; indeed, in the twin political and commercial contexts of national rebranding in contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand, it is the other way round. As for alternatives to the colonial present—opportunities to go beyond what Agamben might call the exceptional spaces of colonial sovereignty—these cannot be satisfied by the exercise of plural sovereignties. Rather, they must involve a ‘coterminous relationship’ in which Indigenous ‘inhabitations’—ways of living in place—are conditioned by continuing encounters, and in which a different model of Indigenous sovereignty is acknowledged: one where ‘the indivisible relationship between land and people is the locus of sovereign power’. The section thus ends, as it began, by appealing to alternative epistemologies and ontologies and the imaginative geographies that inform them, which have the capacity to challenge the orthodoxies of the colonial present and to ‘open up possibilities of living other than those mandated by the status quo’. This is certainly idealism of a kind, but—to revert one last time to Gregory—it is not ‘empty relativism’; instead it suggests, as does Gregory himself, that ‘if we are to cease turning on the treadmill of the colonial present … it will be necessary to explore other [ways of spatial thinking] that can enlarge and enhance our sense of the world and enable us to situate ourselves within it with concern, humility [and] care’ (Gregory 2004: 262).


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