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International Conference


October 20th-21st 2010 Università di Milano-Bicocca

Call for abstract

In geography, space is not just the background where human activities take place, “a regular linear gap” where “all parts are equivalent […] under the same abstract rule with no consideration for their qualitative differences” (Franco Farinelli). Space, for Doreen Massey, is a process always under construction, as “the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity”. Recent research on the relationship between sexuality, diversity and space shows the ways in which public space is built on the idea of ‘appropriate sexual behaviour”. Lifestyles not following the criteria of monogamy, heterosexuality and procreative sexual practices are ruled out from this idea, which in fact lies at the very basis of the social order in many patriarchal societies. What is more, the spatial exclusion of ‘dissidents’ – namely individuals who, for different reasons, do not fall into categories largely accepted as ‘normal’ – contributes to reproduce the notion of citizenship and human right by following ‘heteronormative’ criteria (Phil Hubbard). The concept of heteronormativity is based on the idea that heterosexuality is the only accepted way of expressing sexual preferences in public space (Robyn Wiegman). Public space plays a key role in the construction and legitimisation of a set of political measures advanced through this concept, which has never been precisely defined. Confining sexuality to the private realm of individuals means overlooking its functions as a means by which collective identities are produced. Public spaces are understood, managed and designed by following a rigid twofold rationality (male/female, permitted/not-permitted, homosexual/heterosexual); the gendered nature of social spaces is concealed behind the process of normalisation of the divide between public and private spaces, a divide which in turn reflects the distance between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ sides of social life (Rachele Borghi and Elena dell’Agnese). Building on these ideas, in this conference we aim at investigating any form of 'violations' to the rules of normality, and to explore the multiplicity and diversity of geographic subjects. Our intention is to focus on concepts and ideas first originated within gender studies and then developed in queer theory, in order to reflect on any form of social exclusion reproduced in, and thus legitimised by, public space. Not only heterosexual women or homosexuals are generally perceived as vulnerable subjects: according to American photographer Diane Arbus, this category in fact includes all those so-called 'freak' individuals who do not match, either partially or totally, the standard criteria of ‘normality’. 'Right' human bodies – namely, the only bodies immediately perceived as possessing the ‘right’ of occupying any public space – are in fact male, white, western, young and healthy bodies, and other form of divergence from this definition is promptly judged as ab-normal. This process of exclusion is often reflected in the very act of planning and using public spaces, especially urban areas, as the history of the racial segregation has shown. These public spaces become containers of 'normality' whose strength is that of being perceived as neutral. It is as a consequence of such a process that what we consider as neutral spaces are, in fact, extremely violent spaces of exclusion for ‘ab-normal’ individuals, such as the elderly, children, migrants, differently able people, and animals. In a very subtle way, therefore, public space -although it apparently belongs to everybody -becomes a space for a few, where power relationships become visible and translated into practices of exclusion and marginalization of vulnerable subjects. The awareness of a significant lack of research on these issues in Italian academic geography is the main reason to bring together, in this conference, different scholars who would offer their contribution to the spatial reading of these same phenomena. Our key goals are: to delineate the present situation of Italian academic geography; to compare it to existing research trends developed in international contexts; to foster the mutual exchange of different knowledge and experiences on practices of resistance and transgression advanced in the contexts of academia as well as of civil society; and to promote the creation of transnational research networks.

The conference will focus on the following topics and sessions:

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