Keynote Lecture and Writer’s Reading Summary

University of Warwick, 20 January 2016

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The concluding event of the Leverhulme-funded Network, ‘Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature’, fell almost exactly two years after its first workshop, on 20 January 2016. Following workshops in London, Delhi, Johannesburg and Oxford, this final event took place at the University of Warwick, where Working Group member Professor Pablo Mukherjee, as well as two other members of our Steering Committee, are based. Running for just two hours, the event spoke once more to the ‘Planned Violence’ Network’s central aims by bringing into conversation architect and activist Eyal Weizman with novelist and dramatist Courttia Newland. In this way, this final lecture and reading continued the exploration of interconnections between physical forms of infrastructure and violence, and their literary and cultural representation. These talks were complemented by an exhibition of photographs and artworks depicting moments of planned violence from different cities around the world, located outside the lecture room and exhibited both before the lecture and after the event during the wine reception.

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The keynote lecture was delivered by Eyal Weizman, Professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, and was entitled ‘August Clouds: Forensic Architecture’s 2014 Gaza Investigation’. In the lecture, Weizman introduced the work of his research agency, ‘Forensic Architecture’, a team of architects, scholars, filmmakers, designers, lawyers and scientists that undertakes research gathering and presenting spatial analysis in legal and political forums. The collective has provided evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs and the United Nations in various processes world-wide. In this lecture, Weizman introduced the group’s research into Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. He showed how the Forensic Architecture team compiled sporadic and limited documentary evidence including from social media to provide a coherent picture of one particular bombing campaign and thus to prove its illegality. The analysis ranged from looking at the shadows cast by buildings in photos taken on smartphones by witnesses in order to determine the time at which the bombs were dropped, to working out, from the way in which the buildings were evaporated into distinctively shaped clouds (the ‘August Clouds’ of the lecture’s title), the kinds of bombs that were used by the Israeli Defence Forces. Weizman’s stimulating and provocative lecture offered a fantastic example of the way in which infrastructure can, quite concretely, be analysed in order to reveal, and then to resist or challenge, the kinds of planned violence perpetrated against urban populations. In so doing, the final lecture looked back not only to the Johannesburg Workshop in the Spring of 2015, the title of which, ‘Forensic Infrastructure’, was taken from Weizman’s work, but also brought many of the different tangents of the Network’s research together in a suitably summative contribution.

After Weizman’s lecture, Courttia Newland, author of several novels including The Scholar (1997) and Snakeskin (2002) as well as several play productions, read two original pieces, short stories that have yet to be published and that spoke directly to issues of planned violence. Set in London, both of these readings looked back to the explorations of the very first ‘Planned Violence’ workshop held at King’s College London in January 2014. The work raised issues of police violence against London’s black populations as well as historical interrogations of neglected urban backwaters, demonstrating the capacity of literary and creative writing to diagnose the situations of urban violence that have been so central to the Network’s concerns. We’d like to thank both Professor Weizman and Courttia Newland for providing such pertinent contributions to make this final event a success.

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The accompanying exhibition was comprised of some of the best images from the ‘Planned Violence’ website’s photo-essays, which depict instances of planned violence in Oxford, Milton Keynes, Mumbai and Jerusalem, and combined these with photographs and artistic pieces from Bradley Garrett (London based urban explorer and author who spoke at our Oxford workshop) and Vishwajyoti Ghosh (a graphic novelist who spoke at our Delhi workshop). Parts of the exhibition will soon be on show at both the English Faculty at the University of Oxford and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). Finally, in the Working Group’s final meeting, which took place on the same day, plans for publications were discussed at length, and we are looking forward to producing at least two essay and article collections that will document the Network’s research into the issue of planned violence and also open up new directions in which future research might move.

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