World Knowledge: Universal Geography and Global Conciousness in Fin De Siecle Anarchism, 18701914

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:50 PM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Pascale Siegrist, European University Institute
The paper looks at the scientific and political thought of the geographers and anarchists Elisée Reclus (1830 – 1905) and Pëtr Kropotkin (1842 – 1921) as well as their wider international network that brought together scholars and militants from Europe and beyond. It takes the transnational context within which these debates took place as a starting point for accessing the thoroughly ‘global’ thinking of nineteenth-century anarchists: as exiles and explorers early anarchist geographers had a multifaceted perspective on the world that informed their conceptions of progress and modernity.

The paper makes a case for taking the anarchist engagement with geography seriously as an integral part of their political project. Anarchists strove to construe a cosmology that bridged the universal with the particular, teleology with spontaneity, individual agency with immutable laws of nature. Space thus understood provided the wider narrative framework of their outlook. At the same time, geography opened a way of approaching more specific themes such as the artificial nature of the state, the need for decentralisation, and the rejection of imperial conquest. It was ultimately tied to diversity, difference, and global asynchronies. This can also help to explain the appeal of anarchism to the supposedly ‘backward’ parts of the world. Anarchists seemed much more capable of integrating the non-Western world into their models of progress than their Marxists adversaries.

However, from this twofold ambition of providing a globalising narrative at the same time as paying attention to the variety of worldwide developments emerged inevitable tensions with which the paper seeks to critically engage – epistemic Eurocentrism, ‘benevolent’ colonialism and the critique of isolated communal experiments being cases in point. The paper thus aims to establish a philosophical backdrop of global anarchist theory and links it to examples of anarchist practice all over the globe.