Session Summary


Jason Dittmer, University College London

“Gibraltar and the Making and Re-making of Europe”

This paper argues that the idea that Gibraltar is “strategic” is itself the product of a form of geopolitical thinking that pre-dates the origins of geopolitical discourse as traditionally understood in the historiography of the term. The occupation of Gibraltar in 1703 is the materialisation of that discourse, with the stones, cannons, and tunnels installed on the Rock a performance of imperial geopolitics. However, almost immediately that discourse was demonstrated to be exaggerated, and the British state has been anxious since then to justify the political and economic cost of keeping Gibraltar. The last century has seen rapid technological/military evolution, with Gibraltar’s contribution to empire shifting from a primarily naval function to one dominated by signals intelligence and the “special relationship” with the United States. This hints at a different kind of empire than the one Gibraltar originally sustained, in which power is exercised not through occupation but through the air.

Yousef K. Baker, California State University, Long Beach

“Imperial Crisis and Racialized Militarization: Reconceptualizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq”

This paper argues that the 2003 war was not about Iraq but rather about American anxieties. In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. does not face any serious threats, but its politics are built on the specter of imminent existential threats. The specter functions to give cover for a neoliberal state that has backed away from social welfare as it ramps up its social control capabilities. This paper examines the policies of the occupation as well as how American policy makers and soldiers talked about the war to describe how racialized militarization as an economic circuit, political project, and a social affect is a central place around which the neoliberal state is organized.

Galen Murton ’00, James Madison University

“The Power of Blank Spaces: A critical cartography of China’s Belt and Road Initiative”

A variety of maps depict a usefully approximate but inexact network of roads, rails, sea lanes, and other transport infrastructures to represent something called China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet, for a global infrastructural program that reflects and advances Beijing’s ambition to become a leader of international development, BRI maps remain surprisingly imprecise and unofficial. Informed by previous “mappings of empire” (Edney 1999), I read BRI maps as “usefully fuzzy” (Nairn and Agnew 2019) texts of “cartographic silence” (Harley 2001) to show how they do work (Wood 2010) in the negative register of empty space. Examining the paradox between widespread Chinese developments across Highland Asia-Tibetan Plateau and the region’s conspicuous absence from many BRI maps, this paper highlights some fundamental connections between cartography and empire and underscores how mapping is both a strategic “state of the art” and an imperial “art of the state” (Mundy 1996).

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