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What does this text suggest we ask in characterizing ethnographic places?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:41pm

In terms of characterizing ethnographic places, and really space/place more generally, McKittrick’s work encourages us to think about the overlapping “physical, metaphorical, theoretical, and experiential contours” of a space. How do we think about places as three-dimensional? How do certain places overlap with “subjectivities, imaginations, and stories” (xiii)? When characterizing place, then, how do we navigate between the past, present, and possibly even the future? For me, McKittrick’s work with materiality and scale, especially in relation to the physicality of the auction block itself, has me wondering how we characterize a place in terms of physicality? How can bodies be incorporated into our characterization of place? How can we incorporate the immediacy and materiality of certain places?

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Exemplary quotes or images?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:33pm

“... stress that if practices of subjugation are also spatial acts, then the ways in which black women think, write, and negotiate their surroundings are intermingled with placebased critiques, or, respatializations.” (xix)


…”naming place is also an act of naming the self and self-histories…. Landscape does not simply function as a decorative background, opens up the possibility for thinking about the production of space as unfinished, a poetics of questioning” (xxiii)


…”to use Doreen Massey’s metaphor, different layers of life and social landscape are sedimented into each other. Deep space is the production of space intensified a writ large, ideological and political shifts that impact upon and organize the everyday in multiple contexts and scales … Deep space and its production… are crushingly real” (15)


FIGURE 1. On page 39 - a reconstruction of Harriet Jacobs hiding place - then used to explore different and contradictory forms of captivity, concealment, and resistance. Thinking about concealment.. Confined spaces..  But also about seeing and hearing.. “For seven years Brent holds her body captive while observing activities not always meant for her eyes and ears. There is both a separation from and connection to the world outside the attic; she is both inside and outside, captive and free” (42)


“If scale is socially produced, but implicitly profitable and materially hierarchical, then an analysis of body-scale on and in relation to the auction block demonstrates how social processes organize the world into intelligible and different “clusters” and locations. That is, the auction block differentiates the black body by visually demarcting it and attaching it to discourses of dispossession and captivity to the flesh. The sacel of the body, then, necessarily identifies the ways in which the historical and geographic particularities of the plantation are socially produced through powerful material technologies … This is not to suggest the scale of the body is bound, cut off from its surroundings, but rather that social processes create the idea that balck flesh is distinct, radically different, captive, and not white” (75)  


“If the plantation represented the scale of a town, the auction block figuratively and materially displays a smaller scale--the body or bodies--within the town. … social differences, instigated through scaled different bodies therefore materially and ideologically contribute to the meaning of the plantation town. To put it another way, the auction block, like the main house or the fields, is a geographic economic site, which is also required within the plantation town to convey power, hierarchy, and social roles.” (75)


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What evidence or examples support the main argument, narrative or e/affect?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:33pm

Here’s a list of terms and themes I think McKittrick works with throughout the book:

Transparent space vs. opaque space (contesting space as just “is”)

Three-dimensionality of space

Materiality and its scales

Racial-sexual displacement

Diaspora across space and time

Ungeographic bodies and geographic domination 

How does difference become naturalized? Showing, making visible that process 

The demonic … demonic grounds

Deep space (Smith)

Poetics of landscape (Glissant)

The color-line (DeBois)

New ethnicities, the essential black subjectivity (Hall)

Site of memory (Morrison)

Black absented presence



In order to really work with and address these concepts and themes, McKittrick weaves together several different genres and analytics. She theorizes slave auction blocks, maps of old plantations, the space of Harriet Jacobs attic, and engages with Sylvia Winter’s work.



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What is the main argument, narrative or e/affect?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:32pm

In Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle, Katherine McKittrick navigates between the past, present, (possibly future?), archives, fiction, and material and real lives to explore the spaces and places of black women throughout history, specifically during around the time of the transatlantic slave trade. At its core, this book questions the geographic implications of various sites like slave auction blocks, Harriet Jacob’s attic, and more. For McKittrick, space is alterable, amendable, in constant flux. Space is not viewed from a single vantage point. Looking from multiple vantage points, then, becomes one of the main themes in McKittrick’s text. McKittrick argues geography is not “secure and unwavering,” but produced through social processes of concealment, marginalization, and boundaries (xi). 


For me, Chapter 3 (The Authenticity of This Story Has Not Been Documented: Auction Blocks) is the most creative due to its scaling from raw materiality to larger discursive and structural formations. It begins with a discussion of the literal slave auction block. The space in its raw form. After McKittrick establishes the materiality of the block and how it was used as a site of objectification and commoditization of black bodies, she then explores the concept of scaling: how does this singular site of the auction block extend beyond this confined space? For McKittrick this site can be scaled to include the racial and gendered meanings of the plantation, the region more generally, and finally, this site can extend to the scale of the global slave economy/trade itself. The space of this singular site is mapped with not only these various scales, but ALSO, and perhaps most importantly, with the black women’s’ contestations and resistance. This resistance, too, can extend beyond our linear aspects of time. Scaling of space allows for a conceptualization that goes both beyond the body and beyond time. After reading this book, we see how the body can go beyond space itself too. 


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About the publication venue?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:32pm

Published in 2006, Demonic Grounds is McKittrick’s first book. It was published with the University of Minnesota Press and its topical areas are listed as “geography,” “women’s studies,” and “black studies.” It is not part of a larger edited series. McKittrick received her PhD in 2004, so my understanding is this is based on her dissertation project.

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About the author/s?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:32pm

Katherine McKittrick is a Professor in Gender Studies and the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies
 (Black Studies, Cultural Geographies, The Arts (music, fiction, poetry, visual art), Theories of Race, Interdiscplinarity) at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Katherine McKittrick researches in the areas of black studies, anti-colonial studies, cultural geographies and gender studies. Her research is interdisciplinary and attends to the links between epistemological narrative, liberation, and creative text. Katherine also researches the writings of Sylvia Wynter. Katherine is also editor at Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography.

Research and supervision areas: diasporic and colonial histories; cultural geographies; the arts (https://www.queensu.ca/gnds/people/faculty/katherine-mckittrick). Click HERE for her personal website. 


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Full reference?

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 5:29pm

McKittrick, Katherine. 2006. Demonic Grounds: Black Women And The Cartographies Of Struggle. First edition edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.


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