In the spotlight: David Wilson

What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the

My first thought was how interesting, innovative, and timely the CAPAS call was for these fellowship applications. To me, this advertised university fellowship program was seeking out scholarship on a crucial issue – apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic possibilities – that humankind now faces and academics struggle mightily to understand. The CAPAS call had intriguing connections to my ongoing work on prevailing imaginaries currently being used to govern and restructure cities. I pursued the opportunity immediately.


What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you? 

From my individual perspective and my disciplinary training (in geography), the apocalypse is the termination of current life and living across the planet earth (delivering a kind of ending and a pathway to a new beginning). To me, this notion of the end of the world, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation, is the short-hand entry-point for understanding this concept. A diversity of forces and processes, many of them on the present horizon of distinctive possibility, may deliver an apocalypse in, for example, nuclear catastrophe, irreparable climate change, world wars, massive earthquakes, or meteor collisions with earth.

What is your fellowship trying to achieve?

My fellowship research is interested in deepening our understanding of how cities and urbanization in the present moment are being built across the world. My work conceives of the current building processes of cities as being guided by a complicated deploying of imaginaries that itself root in apocalyptic visions and apocalyptic spatialities (I am specifically chronicling that Dracula-like apocalyptic images, metaphors, metonymies, and other tropes are crucial to accelerating the building of current gentrification, race-class ghettoization, and socio-spatial polarization).

How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?

I have had a long-term interest in interrogating how cities across the global north and global south have functioned as sites for growth and redevelopment all the while being infused with conflict, contradiction, and people’s passion for forging better lives. My interest in cities stems from having been born and raised in New York City and living in Chicago and Philadelphia, and also spending meaningful time in Shanghai, London, Glasgow, and other urban environments.

What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?

From developing and situating my project in CAPAS over these more than four months, I will take with me at least two key epiphanies that immediately come to mind. First, I will embody a remarkably heightened appreciation for how social, scientific, and humanities based knowledges can inform each other in a substantive way. Secondly, I will leave with a new-found appreciation for how complicated apocalyptic imaginings can be and how they are wielded as political tools to advance a wide array of urban (and other) political projects. The end product, I anticipate, will be a book produced that will exhibit nuance and sly insight as a result of, first, judiciously integrating and entangling social scientific analysis with humanities rooted insights, and second, recognizing apocalyptic imaginings as crucial resources to fostering urban political projects.

What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS?
I look forward to applying to my ongoing and future work the fresh insights that fellow fellows have introduced to me via their presentations, talk summations, and informal conversations. My deepened exposure to history, political science, media studies, and language studies was both remarkably stimulating and will prove invaluable to my future work.

To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?

  1. Human contact to preserve one’s sanity.
  2. A tangible vision for creating a new world that would privilege equity, human diversity, and respect for the complications of the human condition.
  3. Clean water, suitable medicine and medical expertise, and good food (hopefully Asian).

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?

I’ll go the music route, and recommend three amazing albums that speak to the apocalypse:

  1. Santana’s visionary album Caravanserai (surviving an apocalyptic world).
  2. John Mclaughlin’s and the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s remarkable album The Inner Mounting Flame(human mediation and resilience in the face of society’s ascent into debilitating chaos).
  3. Miles Davis’s haunting album Bitches Brew (showing us a new way forward as a set of suggested aesthetics and political possibilities in a revitalized world).

David Wilson is Professor of Geography and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, affiliated with the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory. He is currently investigating neoliberal redevelopment in European and Asian cities.