The Yale conference was good, with a wide range of perspectives. Though there was a clear clash of perspectives between the historians and geographies on the one hand, and the political scientists on the other, this was not unpleasant. The political scientists, especially those doing normative political theory, seemed broadly to be operating in a very abstract register, and it reminded me of what I liked (the rigor and precision) and disliked (the detachment, the terminological but ahistorical analytics, the lack of spatial interrogation) about my time in that discipline. The same thing that has struck me with reading political theory on borders, territory, etc. was apparent here: there will be a great deal of critical interrogation of rights, justice, etc. but territory, borders and place are seemingly unproblematic or unworthy of conceptual discussion. In the discussions – which were very long after each set of three papers – there was a lot of ‘let me try to put this in my language; are you saying…’ type comments. Interdisciplinary work often comes up against these barriers, but this conference at least attempted to work through some of those difficulties.
Being in an Ivy league institution was interesting, especially given that I was representing Geography (there were only two other Geographers there – Joshua Hagen and Alex Diener). The other Brit – David Miller from Oxford – wasn’t a geographer. On more than one occasion I had to correct people who said that ‘well, of course, the US doesn’t have any good Geography departments’ (really). A few people expressed surprise that I would give the talk I did with a Geography background, and then looked comfortably reassured when I said I had a degree in Politics & Modern History and a PhD in Political Theory.
I’m now on the train back to Boston to catch a flight home. It’s been a long time on the road, with some excellent conversations and hospitality, but I’ll be glad to be back. The next two talks are in Paris and Nottingham in early May, and then nothing until Edinburgh in early July. Between there is an examination mountain to climb.