What is GEM?

GEM will regularly assemble at Utrecht University to discuss topics on the intersection of media studies and critical geography, with a special focus on screens as navigational interfaces in urban mobile settings. Tied to the Charting the Digital European Research Council project and in cooperation with the University of Warwick and Manchester University, we aim to provide an inclusive platform to discuss interdisciplinary topics pertaining to this focus.

Academic Focus

Whether or not we wish to speak of a spatial – or spatiotemporal – turn, spatiality has both become a central theoretical concept in media studies as well as in critical geography. New urban interfaces, and in particular digital mapping, have prompted challenging questions about how spatialities can be epistemologically and ontologically understood and which theories, tools and methodologies are needed to understand our contemporary mediatized and mobile daily lives to their full extent. GEM aims to shed light on such questions by exploring the intersections of the different notions of space in different disciplines and traditions of thought, combined with the analysis of and reflection on cultural and technological practices. It wants to offer a platform for discussion, analysis and reflection on how we can approach and ‘do’ geo-media and urban interfaces and explore the essentials we need as researchers to engage with these research topics.

Who is it for?

Open to Ph.D. candidates and as well as other junior and senior researchers, we will occasionally incorporate guest lectures, workshops and master classes. Those who join are more than welcome to suggest their own workshops, reading material, research questions and/or methodologies.


First Meeting: Non-Representational Theory
Friday, November 15, Utrecht University 13:00-15:00, Muntstraat 2A, 1.11


Perhaps one of the most persistent notions in media theory is representation. Geographer Nigel Thrift suggests moving away from representation, towards the domain of practices and performativity. Combining the works of classic phenomenologists with Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, as well as science and technology studies (STS) and the political sciences, Thrift suggests a new approach to studying the everyday and the role of technology in it.

For this session we will read Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (2007) and discuss how his thoughts and concepts relate to our own work.

If you are interested in joining this session and/or wish to be on the mailing list, please send an email to Nanna Verhoeff (

Political Affects in Public Space II

I said I’d return to make a few comments on the Barnett (2008) paper I read yesterday (direct link to that post here). He understands the Thriftian notion of affect in two registers and calls up a number of problems:

1. under the critical vision of the politics of affect.

Are all affectual outcomes bad? Because that’s what Barnett thinks Thrift gets at for a large part. If affect matters politically it’s because ‘it opens up new surfaces for the exercise of manipulation’ (198). But Barnett says that excitement, joy, fear, compulsion, shame etc. ‘have no a priori political valence at all’ (198) and as such can’t be deemed bad per se. It’s a process of interpreting the outcomes from these affects that have the political dimension. Thrift needs to consider this in order to qualify this dimension.


2. under the affirmative vision of the politics of affect.

The spaces of affect can be progressively appropriated in order to realise new ‘configurations of feelings’ (198). But why is Thrift making these somewhat covert attempts to open up political regimes of affect? Surely their value only comes from the kinds of political projects that are ongoing and are directed to anyway (’emotional liberty’, ‘ethos of engagement’ 198)? Thrift needs to engage with these political dimensions outright if he wants to make a project of the spaces of affect. Although something tells me that’s not what he wants to do. But Barnett says if that is what Thrift intends, then he has to clarify the implications of it for democratic principles (liberty, free-speech etc.), and for the people who should be participating in this process of commanding the spaces of affect (i.e. every single citizen).