Call for Papers: The Politics of Failure (AAG 2015)

Call for Papers: The Politics of Failure 
Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting
21-25 April 2015

Organizers: Sam Hind, University of Warwick and Clancy Wilmott, University of Manchester

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”
Samuel Beckett (1983)

Although there has been a significant literature on the topic of failures – of design and engineering (Petrovski, 2013), of infrastructure (Graham, 2010), of architecture (van lersal et al. 2014), of technology (Virilio, 2007), of machines (Graham and Thrift, 2007), of economics (Rutherford and Davison, 2012) – there has been less attention given to the concept of failure itself.

Failure is a remarkably commonplace occurrence. Failures disrupt the otherwise smooth flow of bodies, objects and other things and can arise in the banal. Navigation devices ‘fail’ when signal is lost. Social movements ‘collapse’ when individuals fail to mobilize. Redevelopment plans ‘stall’ when market conditions change. Designs are ‘follies’ when they fail in their intentions. The state of failure, therefore, is also one of implied negativity – an event that signals misjudgement, decline, deterioration and defeat.

Can failure, then, be recast as a valuable epistemological state? In what ways does failure allow us to think laterally, experimentally and perhaps even radically as researchers and producers of knowledge? Put otherwise, as we invite potential participants to address, can knowledge be more novel, ‘valuable’ or emancipatory in failure than in success? How can failure interrogate, obscure or reinforce the systems, representations, processes, ideologies, actors, discourses, experiences, apparatuses and politics in the world?

This session seeks contributions that approach failure from a critical and philosophical perspective, that challenge, critique or explicate the nature of failure in relation to spaces or spatial processes. Such contributions should aim to move beyond the axioms of failure as a negative and destructive process, and vie away from purely ‘iconic…disruptions’ (Graham 2009) to take account of the plethora of fails, glitches and errors that emerge through everyday practices, spaces and texts. Papers that work towards reconceptualizing and reimagining failure as a political state, which offers an alternative way of understanding the world, are especially welcome.

We invite submissions from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, and are open to a wide range of topics. Themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Failure of technology platforms (Apple Maps etc.)
  • Failure of knowledge-production/collaboration
  • Spaces of failure/space for failure
  • Critical connections between disruption, disobedience and other forms of resistance
  • Failure and technology start-up culture
  • ‘Glitch’ aesthetics and visual failures as playful, creative
  • Interface ‘errors’ and the ‘blackboxing’ of failure
  • Failure as methodology/epistemology
  • Epistemic breaks as failures
  • Failure of urban visions (Modernism, ‘smart’ or ‘resilient’ cities etc.)
  • Immanence and anticipation of ‘future failures
  • Experimentation, risk and failure
  • Failure as tactic/tactical
  • Failure as mode of existence
  • Communication failures
  • The ethical implications of ‘failure-thinking’
  • Failure(s) in research

We welcome abstracts of 250 words (max) via email to Sam ( and Clancy ( by October 16th, 2014. Please include a title for your submission, name of author(s) and a short bio. Final notification will be received by October 20th, 2014.

Graham, S. (2010). Disrupted cities: when infrastructure fails. New York, Routledge.
Graham, S. and Thrift, N. (2007). ‘Out of Order: Understanding Repair and Maintenance’. Theory, Culture & Society. 24 (3), 1-25.
Petroski, H. (2013). Success through failure: the paradox of design. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Rutherford, J. and Davison, S. (2012). The Neoliberal Crisis. London, Soundings/Lawrence and Wishart.
Van Iersel, M et al. (2014). Failed Architecture (website), [accessed 14 September, 2014]. Virilio, P (2007). The Original Accident. Cambridge, UK, Polity.