Book review symposium: [Un]Grounding

reviewed by Joe Blakey, Matina Kapsali and Nicola Guy

4 May 2023, 12:53 p.m.

[Un]Grounding book cover

Friederike Landau, Lucas Pohl, and Nikolai Roskamm (eds), [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies, Bielefeld: transcript, 2021; 348 pp.: ISBN: 9783837650730, £47.99/€50,00 (pbk)



Reviewed by: Lazaros Karaliotas, University of Glasgow, UK

Debates around post-foundational political thought have animated contemporary thinking around urban politics in urban studies, geography and beyond – often under the rubric of debates around the urban (post)political (e.g. Beveridge and Koch, 2017; Dikeç, 2017; Swyngedouw, 2017). [Un]Grounding: Post-foundational Geographies edited by Friederike Landau-Donnelly, Lucas Pohl and Nikolai Roskamm offers an original, refreshing and thought-provoking return to some of these debates while also tracing new ground on how post-foundational thought can open up conceptual and research pathways for urban studies and geography. Comprising 17 chapters organised in three sections, the book offers new theoretical engagements with the conceptual universe of post-foundationalism in dialogue with key ideas in geography and urban studies; explores the potentialities that post-foundational thought opens up for geographical thinking; and grounds post-foundationalism in the study of cities and the urban. In doing so, it offers a much needed and topical intervention in the study of urban politics but also extends geographers’ engagements with post-foundationalism beyond the well-rehearsed arguments around the (post)political.

This review symposium brings together three scholars who draw attention to key contributions of the book, while also putting forward critiques and questions to the editors. Joe Blakey, in his contribution, draws attention to how [Un]Grounding stages a productive dialogue between spatial thinking and post-foundationalism to popularise and foreground perhaps the key insight of the latter: the absence of any solid and stable ground on which the political can be founded. While welcoming the dialogue between post-foundational political thought and authors located in different ‘ontological camps’, Blakey usefully probes us to further reflect on the ontological tensions and limits of such dialogues. Matina Kapsali, for her part, also foregrounds the dialogue of spatial and post-foundational thinking as the book’s key contribution. In parallel, however, she also draws attention to a key silence in post-foundational thinking, namely: its rather limited engagement with feminist thinking and feminist geographies. Addressing this gap, Kapsali convincingly argues, would offer a new breath in post-foundational geographic thinking through an engagement with notions like minor theory and the everyday. Finally, Nicola Guy also highlights the problem of ‘representation’ in post-foundational theory (and geography) and the dominance of white cis European thinkers within the field – while also acknowledging the books, effort to, in part, address this gap. However, Guy also offers key insights on how [Un]Grounding might advance our thinking around the urban.

In response, Friederike Landau-Donnelly, Lucas Pohl and Nikolai Roskamm nicely highlight how ‘living in post-foundational times means to wrestle with uncertainty’, and return to some of the book’s key contributions and aims and begin thinking towards a more plural (geographical) post-foundationalism.


Commentary I: Making an ontological difference

Reviewed by: Joe Blakey, The University of Manchester, UK

In a welcome contribution to urban and geographical scholarship, Friederike Landau-Donnelly, Lucas Pohl and Nikolai Roskamm’s new edited volume, [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies, stages a cross-pollination between spatial and post-foundational thought. The former is taken to mean the spatial turn most generally, meaning the book, its contributors and the theorists they draw upon are not limited to the discipline of geography. Post-foundationalism, meanwhile, is less easy to sum up. However, in brief, and regarding political change specifically, post-foundationalism seeks to strike a balance between a radical openness to enacting alternative social configurations (‘the political’) and a simultaneous appreciation for the contingency of, the necessity for and the power of, all social orders. One of its key points is to suggest that there can be no all-inclusive order, so there are always voices left unheard, meaning there are endless opportunities for social orders to be reconfigured.

Within urban studies and human geography post-foundational thinking has most evidently been applied to the post-political debate around whether political change is being repressed (cf. Beveridge and Koch, 2017; Swyngedouw, 2017). However, the more general engagement with key radical democracy theorists who can be squarely located in the post-foundational camp (cf. Barnett, 2004; Dikeç, 2012; Thomassen, 2005; Tolia-Kelly, 2019) or Sparke’s (2005) work on the post-foundational geographies of the nation-state, has not shared this notoriety. For instance, at the time of writing, and according to academic database Scopus, there are 28 times the number of articles which mention the post-political and its various permutations than post-foundationalism in their abstract, title or keywords within Urban Studies. In foregrounding the implications of a post-foundational ontology [Un]Grounding serves as an overdue corrective, as it is fair to say that the wider implications of post-foundationalism for geography, and geographical and urban thought more generally, have not been systematically examined or widely entertained.

A key assertion made by the editors and contributors is that links between post-foundationalism and spatial theory (within and beyond geography) are already present but implicit. Consequently, they task the book with making these links explicit and interrogating ‘their ontological underpinnings and implications’ (p. 11). Perhaps the greatest contribution of this edited collection is its attempt to substantiate – and hopefully popularise – the term [un]grounding. The term is proposed in Landau-Donnelly’s, Pohl and Roskamm’s introduction where, in their words, it points to how every way of ordering, ‘every construct, every edifice has a ground or base. Accordingly, grounding means to explain, order, defend and legitimize a particular or ontic spatial setting […] motivated by reaching fixation [… A]dding [un] to the trope of grounding [… encourages scholars] to also look at the other side(s) of stabilizations, sedimentations, [and] grounds’ (2021, p. 27).

One of the issues with the field of post-foundational thought is that it is often draped in quite dense and specific terminology that means different things to thinkers within and beyond the field (consider, for instance, ‘politics’, ‘the political’, ‘the police’ or ‘subjectification’). A consequence of this is that scholars are occasionally talking at crossed purposes, using the same terms but meaning different things. This has, among other things, fed shallow critiques of post-foundationalism, including that it limits our sensitivity to understanding change (Dikeç, 2017 provides the best debunk of this, in my view). But the term (un)grounding, adapted from Heidegger (1993) and infusing the writing of various post-foundational thinkers, draws attention to the endless articulation between practices of grounding and ungrounding, distilling the spirit of post-foundationalism into an intuitive and accessible lexicon. I commend the editors for taking ‘(un)grounding’ and placing it up front and centre, and I certainly hope it inspires an in-depth geographical engagement with post-foundationalism.

While the term (un)grounding certainly provides a way into the field, digging into the fine detail of what constitutes post-foundationalism still matters. As the authors suggest, a cross-examination of the ontological assumptions behind spatial and post-foundational thought is vital if we are to bring them together. This is particularly important given post-foundationalism’s peculiar treatment of ontology which moves it beyond the horizons of foundationalist and anti-foundationalist thought. As Marchart (2011) has observed, post-foundationalism is predicated upon Heidegger’s ontological difference. This is a distinction between the ontic question of beings (the social and our attempts to ground it, including politics in its everyday sense) and the ontological question of Being in general (the metaphysical assertion of absent grounds, from which the opportunity for ungrounding and political change arises). For post-foundational thinkers there is a recognition that there is no ontological (or foundational) principle against which we can order or ground the social. But equally, we do not live in a void (as anti-foundationalism might suggest) – contingent grounds are therefore necessary, plural and fallible because they are ontologically groundless.

The risk of foregrounding a post-foundational ontology is that it might be established as yet-another siloed ‘island of practice’ (Purcell, 2003), where interaction with other parts of the urban and geographical thought is minimal, tokenistic or even absent. However, one of the things that the collection does well is to take (spatial) thinking that we might more often put in the more ‘foundationalist’ bracket, the ‘anti-foundationalist’ bracket, or neither, and to twist them into, or re-read them through, a post-foundational lens. Some of the names at play here are far from the usual post-foundational suspects: JK Gibson-Graham, Henri Lefebvre, Fredric Jameson, Siegfried Kracauer, Michel de Certeau and even some Actor Network theorists. This means that the book can be treated as more of an opening, holding a conversation with geographical scholarship most generally rather than staking a position against it – and I think this is the right choice. As Jens Kaae Fisker rightly puts it in their chapter, ‘there are many ways of being a post-foundationalist and […] we would do well to draw on a wider range of them’ (2021, p. 78). Pointing out these synergies and overlaps is fruitful, but I was occasionally left wanting slightly more interrogation of how comfortably these theories fit together. What ontological tensions remain? What are the ontological limits of bringing these thinkers together? Where do concessions need to be made (by the original theorists or by post-foundationalists) to bring these diverse theoretical approaches together? How far do these interstitial theoretical spaces span? Addressing these questions matters as it is the ontological difference that distinguishes post-foundational thinking, and some chapters do so better than others.

[Un]Grounding nonetheless creates a series of helpful and often innovative hooks to inspire future post-foundational geographical scholarship. Much of this involves trying to forge new theoretical connections, as above, but Pohl and Swyngedouw’s chapter also paints in the under-acknowledged Lacanian genealogy of post-foundational political thought. The book, of course, also hosts the names from post-foundationalism political thinking to which many are already accustomed – the likes of Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière and Slavoj Žižek. Unsurprisingly, this makes for more familiar reading, in many places drawing out the spatial undercurrents and implications of their thought, and the utility of space to their thought, as others have done previously (e.g. Dikeç, 2005, 2012). Similarly, it also presses the central role of ‘the city’, stressing its role as the product and progenitor of political disputes, and a site through which processes of (un)grounding can be observed and understood. The introduction also mentions the recently reignited debates in urban studies over what the city is in the era of planetary urbanization, and whilst Roskamm’s chapter offers some answers from a post-foundational reading of Lefebvre, I suspect other post-foundational thinkers may also hold some interesting answers.

The authors also acknowledge the silences in the edited volume, namely the lesser representation of female theorists and scholars, and non-Western epistemologies. This is an apt reminder that while we all, in our different ways, play our part in maintaining the contingent grounds of the present social order; we can be part of ungrounding it, too. Pointing to such alternative epistemologies and voices is certainly a start, but the radical act will be them being actively taken up. It throws down the gauntlet for post-foundationalism to practice what it preaches – and this should be a key task for urban and geographical post-foundational thinking moving forwards.

[Un]Grounding, therefore, encourages urban and geographical scholars to tap into the wider potential of this novel and radical political ontology. In doing so, it highlights a series of fertile sites for cross pollination, stressing the ways that spatial thought can also enrich post-foundational literature. Most excitingly, [Un]Grounding marks an opportunity for post-foundational geographies to firmly establish itself as vibrant sub-field that is not caught between the horizons of foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. In doing so, scholars can keep a parallax view over power and resistance, place and placelessness, presence and absence, orders and their alternatives, and ground and groundlessness.



Barnett C (2004) Deconstructing radical democracy: articulation, representation, and being-with-others. Political Geography 23(5): 503–528. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Beveridge R, Koch P (2017) The post-political trap? Reflections on politics, agency and the city. Urban Studies 54(1): 31–43. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Dikeç M (2005) Space, politics, and the political. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23(2): 171–188. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Dikeç M (2012) Space as a mode of political thinking. Geoforum 43(4): 669–676. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Dikeç M (2017) Disruptive politics. Urban Studies 54(1): 49–54. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Landau-Donnelly F, Pohl L, Roskamm N (2021) Introduction. In: Landau F, Pohl L, Roskamm N (eds) [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press, pp.9–42. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Heidegger M (1993) Basic Concepts. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Google Scholar

Fisker J (2021) Encountering postfoundationalism in JK Gibson-Graham s space of pregnant negativity: Or, ungrounding the ground itself. In: Landau F, Pohl L, Roskamm N (eds) [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press, pp.63–80. Google Scholar

Marchart O (2011) Democracy and minimal politics: The political difference and its consequences. South Atlantic Quarterly 110(4): 965–973. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Purcell M (2003) Islands of practice and the Marston/Brenner debate: toward a more synthetic critical human geography. Progress in Human Geography 27(3): 317–332. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Sparke M (2005) In the Space of Theory: Postfoundational Geographies of the Nation-State. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Google Scholar

Swyngedouw E (2017) Unlocking the mind-trap: Politicising urban theory and practice. Urban Studies 54(1): 55–61. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Tolia-Kelly DP (2019) Ranciére and the re-distribution of the sensible: The artist Rosanna Raymond, dissensus and postcolonial sensibilities within the spaces of the museum. Progress in Human Geography 43(1): 123–140. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Thomassen L (2005) Reading radical democracy: A commentary on Clive Barnett. Political Geography 24(5): 631–639. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar


Commentary II: [Un]Grounding: Post-foundational geographies

Reviewed by: Matina Kapsali, The University of Manchester, UK

In the early 2000s, Oliver Marchart established post-foundational political thought as a coherent body of work building on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Approximately two decades later, the book [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies, edited by Friederike Landau-Donnelly, Lucas Pohl and Nikolai Roskamm, provides a complex, yet clear, framework for rethinking post-foundational theory and, in particular, its connection with spatial theory and praxis. While research at the intersection of politics and space through a post-foundational perspective has gained ground over the last decade, this edited volume provides a valuable way forward as it presents post-foundational spatial thinking as a distinctive and multi-faceted line of thought. Rather than providing a detailed chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, the aim of my review is twofold: first to pinpoint the major contributions of the volume and second to put forward some critiques and open questions through a feminist geographical perspective.

The overall goal of the book is to investigate and uncover the multiple – existing but often latent – connections between post-foundational political theory and spatial and urban theory. Based on the Heideggerian idea of ontological difference, the essence of post-foundational thinking is aptly given by the editors of the book through the following phrase: ‘we are living in a conflictual and contingent world, based on conflictual and contingent grounds’ (p. 21). In parallel, departing from ideas of space as a container or as a purely physical entity, the book approaches space as a relational concept, ‘appearing as always-already situated […] between “politics” and “the political”’ (p. 25). Building on the above, the book is structured around the concepts of ‘grounding (i.e. taking, claiming or imagining grounds) and ungrounding (i.e. challenging, uprooting or occluding grounds)’ (p. 11) through contributions of various political scientists and urban scholars. One of the things I found most interesting about the book is that it invites the reader to question the often established ideas about what post-foundational theory is or who can be considered as a post-foundational theorist. The whole book constitutes an intriguing and thought-provoking [un]grounding exercise; opening up a new universe that brings together post-foundational ideas on political difference, contingency and conflict with spatial terminology on place-making, scale and publicness.

The book is structured in three parts. Each chapter is like a piece of a puzzle that adds a new perspective on how we understand post-foundational spatial theory. In the first part, Theoretical (Re)Positionings, authors revisit key political and urban thinkers that have been already established as post-foundationalists, like Rancière, and others whose work has not been discussed in post-foundational terms, like JK Gibson-Graham, seeking to trace the post-foundational elements of their interventions and their spatial underpinnings. Key concepts of each thinker, such as the World and the Real (Lacan), pregnant negativity (Gibson-Graham), the right to the city (Lefebvre), the theory on space and antagonism (Laclau), political events (Badiou) and the police, politics and the political (Rancière) are critically examined. In the second part, [Un]Grounding Geographies, through a collection of four chapters, authors engage with relational terms such as public space, place, scale, market and the unconscious through a post-foundational perspective, unfolding their relation to conflict and absence. Drawing from case studies in places like Canada and India, authors engage with geographical and spatial theories, like radical museums, cognitive mapping, Actor-Network-Theory and Social Network Analysis. The third part, Post-Foundationalism in the City, discusses contested urban politics through an investigation of the ways in which urban practices of protest unground a notion of the city as a space of order and as a process of disruption. In doing this, each chapter brings forward a different case study, including architectural praxis (Red Vienna), the politicisation of air (London), agonistic place-making and everyday mobility (Frankfurt), hope and the political in everyday life (Cairo and Alexandria) and anti-austerity movements (Athens).

One of the major contributions of this volume is that it enriches post-foundational thinking by bringing it into dialogue with spatial and urban theories. While post-foundational political theorists often use spatial terms for developing their arguments, like Rancière’s term ‘the staging of dissent’, their connections with notions of spatialisation and space-making often remain latent. Over the last decades, urban scholars have employed the post-foundational framework on political difference in order to explore and understand urban phenomena; to analyse either the depoliticisation of urban governance or the spaces and processes of politicisation (e.g. Karaliotas and Kapsali, 2021; Swyngedouw, 2014; Van Wymeersch and Oosterlynck, 2018). Contributing to this body of literature, [Un]Grounding uncovers ‘connections […] that are already there’ and explores them in relation to their ontological implications.

In parallel, a second major contribution is exactly the opposite: the book offers a fresh interpretation of the work of key urban and political thinkers by revisiting their work through a post-foundational lens. Contributing authors provide interesting re-readings of urban thinkers that have not, until today, been explicitly discussed as post-foundationalists like Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau with a view to uncover the post-foundational ontological tenets of their work. This endeavour becomes particularly interesting when authors engage with thinkers whose work does not have clear post-foundational ontological underpinnings. For instance, Roskamm’s chapter on Lefebvre starts from Lefebvre’s writings on the urban as a process that ‘can never be present in its entirety’ (p. 94) and analyses Lefebvre’s anti-ontological ontology and how this could be linked to post-foundationalism.

After this short presentation of the book’s structure and its key contributions, I will now turn my interest in providing a feminist geographical critique of the book. Feminist theory and feminist geography have been continuously preoccupied with political praxis and the politics of space. We could say however, that the notion ‘the political’ was introduced into feminist theory through the book Feminists Theorize the Political edited by Butler and Scott (1992). While the key feminist authors of the volume do not engage clearly with post-foundationalism, they do engage with concepts of precariously constructed foundations, power and political resistance by tracing the points of convergence between feminism and poststructuralism. Moreover, we could identify post-foundational traces in recent feminist research. For example, Hall (2019: 9) points out that ‘adopting a feminist approach is about seeing the world through a lens focused on acknowledging and recognising social difference’.

From a feminist geography point of view, post-foundational political theory is characterised by two main limitations, both of which this volume seeks to challenge but does not thoroughly manage to do so. First, in relation to knowledge production, post-foundationalism has been developed mainly by European, white, male-identified authors. The book, unfortunately, reproduces this tendency as it lacks a satisfactory representation of female writing authors, as the editors themselves recognise (p. 30). But feminist theory suggests that ‘the sort of knowledge made depends on who its makers are’ (Rose, 1997: 306–307; see also, Harding, 1991). Thus, a step forward for post-foundational spatial theory would be to draw more on the work of female researchers on social and political difference and space.

Second, there is a broader lack of engagement of post-foundational thinking with feminist theory. While this volume achieves its goal in enriching the vocabulary of post-foundational theory with key spatial and geographical terms such as place, space and scale, an important step forward would be to engage with feminist geographical terms such as minor theory, everyday life and embodied spatialities in order to understand their ontological implications and their relation to politics and space. Chapters of the book initiate such explorations but further work is needed towards the development of a post-foundational feminist thinking. Two concepts that can operate as staring points are the following.

The first one is weak or minor theory. Fisker’s chapter on JK Gibson-Graham analyses weak theory as ‘a constructive companion to the post-foundational inclination towards deconstruction’ (p. 67). Weak theory provides a way of ‘reading for contingency rather than necessity’ (Gibson-Graham, 2006: xxxi) or of ‘refusing to know too much’ (Gibson-Graham, 2006: 8) in contrast to the universalising and totalising claims to truth developed in strong theories like foundationalism or essentialism. Moreover, Katz’s (1996)‘intentionally spatiali[s]ed conceptuali[s]ation of minor theory’ (Temenos, 2017: 580) and renegade cartographies puts forward the idea of ‘becoming’ as a politically useful notion that requires from those ‘engaged in a become [to be] clear about their multiple and mutable (but always somewhere) positionings’ (p. 495). But, how can concepts central to minor theory like translation, adaptation and resistance be linked with post-foundational thinking?

The second concept is that of the everyday. Linked to the previous point, minor theory pays attention to the ways in which embedded and embodied social practices, mundane and unexceptional lived experiences, corporeal relations, identities, spaces and feelings are connected to broader structural changes. What does it mean for post-foundational thinking to understand politics, not only in terms of urban protest and large-scale mobilisations, but also as ‘everyday-situated and everyday-related’ processes (Hall, 2020: 813; Kapsali, 2020). Chapters in the book already touch upon such issues. For example, Burnham engages with the question of scales, and analyses the decolonisation of the geographic unconscious through an inquiry ‘at the scale of berries’ (p. 189). In parallel, Kenis and Lievens explore the politicisation of air in London and suggest that based on Sartre we can develop ‘a theory[s]ation of antagonism which is more “material” than the model of discursive exclusion which Laclau and others operate within’ (p. 264). For developing a more engaged relation between post-foundational spatial thinking and feminist theory on the everyday, it is crucial to depart from theorisations of everyday life developed by the ‘big boys’ of urban theory (Hall, 2019: 9), like Lefebvre and de Certeau, and turn towards feminist approaches to the everyday and the ways they inform political spatialisation. These include, among others, gendered politics, care and social reproduction and, material and social infrastructures, seen from a relational and political perspective.

To conclude, [Un]Grounding: Post-foundational Geographies provides a stimulating development of a post-foundational spatial theory. Through the re-visiting of key post-foundational and spatial theories as well as through empirical analyses on urban protest and everyday life, it provides a rupture, an ungrounding of our current understanding of post-foundationalism and opens new directions of thinking about the relation between politics and space in the fields of urban studies, geography, planning and architecture. Motivated by the rich mosaic of post-foundational spatial approaches developed in the book, we could probably start thinking post-foundationalisms in plural, not as a theory but as a way of thinking. An important step forward is to explore the intersections between post-foundational spatial theory and feminist and post-colonial geographies.



Butler J, Scott JW (1992) Feminists Theorize the Political. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Gibson-Graham JK (2006) A Post-capitalist Politics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Google Scholar

Hall SM (2019) Everyday Life in Austerity: Family, Friends and Intimate RelationsSwitzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Hall SM (2020) Revisiting geographies of social reproduction: Everyday life, the endotic, and the infra-ordinary. Area 52(4): 812–819. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Harding S (1991) Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women’s Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Kapsali M (2020) Political infrastructures of care: Collective home making in refugee solidarity squats. Radical Housing Journal 2(2): 13–34. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Karaliotas L, Kapsali M (2021) Equals in solidarity: Orfanotrofio’s housing squat as a site for political subjectification across differences amid the “Greek crisis”. Antipode 53(2): 399–421. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Katz C (1996) Towards minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 14(4): 487–499. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Rose G (1997) Situating knowledges: Positionality, reflexivities and other tactics. Progress in Human Geography 21(3): 305–320. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Swyngedouw E (2014) Where is the political? Insurgent mobilisations and the incipient “return of the political”. Space and Polity 18(2): 122–136. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Temenos C (2017) Minor theory and relational urbanism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 35(4): 579–583. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Van Wymeersch E, Oosterlynck S (2018) Applying a relational approach to political difference: Strategies of particularization and universalization in contesting urban development. In: Knierbein S, Viderman T (eds) Public Space Unbound: Urban Emancipation and the Postpolitical Condition. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.1–16. CrossrefGoogle Scholar


Commentary III

Reviewed by: Nicola Guy, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

We depart from the assumption that grounds are not merely absent or gone, but constantly inscribed in already-constructed spaces, which carry traces of continent decisions of the past, having led to social sediments of power and meaning as results of processes of hegemonic articulation. (p.11)

With post-foundational thinking any idea that there is absolute reason is left, so ungrounding resists and disrupts those social practices that are taught as principle. For urban studies, this opens up the possibility for re-examination both of the sites of research and the discourse we use. Through accepting the notion that space is constantly made while retaining its past an understanding of how the status quo can be disrupted can be formed.

[Un]Grounding carefully situates post-foundational thought within spatial studies, arguing that these links are already there but necessitate closer study. The overarching question of [Un]Grounding is around how this post-foundational approach can be used to revisit spatial thinking for a radical reproach of urban studies. The above quote from the collectively written introduction indicates to the usefulness of revisiting spatial studies with a post-foundational lens, and the potential this gives to look beyond these studies themselves. Through the introduction, the editors review the lack of writing around post-foundational thinking and its origins using Oliver Marchart as the key reference throughout. Clearly set out are the terms and ideas that follow through the book as well as the writers that will be considered within a post-foundational discourse, which comprises the first section of the book. Revisited are Laclau, Badiou and Rancière, whose work is situated easily within post-foundational thinking but takes a little more to understand within the spatial. In these chapters, their work is outlined within post-foundationalism, again often referring to Marchart to do this, as well as the potential for spatial consideration. Out of the writers discussed Lefebvre operates as a more understandable bridge between the two, at least upon initial reading, between the two, which Nikolai Roskamm details in “On Shaky Ground Thinking Lefebvre” offering a look at Lefebvre’s very early spatial studies.

[Un]Grounding early on recognises the problem of representation in post-foundationalism; that it is dominated by white, cis male writers, a problem that is echoed within the spatial studies being discussed as well. Efforts have been made for this to not be replicated within the publication, though it is undeniable that most of the referenced writers still fall into this category. Throughout the publication however, this dominant narrative is consciously challenged with contributions that examples from outside of the west that expand on those earlier writers. In ‘How Does The [Un]Grounded Interface Generate Possibilities for Spatial Alternative’, Mohamed Saleh looks to fieldwork undertaken in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, in order to look more hopefully to the radical potential of protest and urban power. As the penultimate chapter of the book, this contribution offers a different approach that opens up what has been written so far. The notion of learning hope as a revolutionary idea that can unground shows a way in which urban transformation could occur. Saleh refers to embracing the ‘uncertainty, ambiguity and multiplicity at the core of understanding our dynamic world of urban change’ (p. 320). This continues to highlight the sense in using a post-foundational understanding to study urban space, as a way of thinking that seeks to understand abundance.

Across the whole final section is acknowledgement of the potential for post-foundational thinking to inform and be informed by political action leading to the possibility to dismantle hegemony, something that has of course been a long-standing interest within urban studies. In this final section of the publication, these possibilities are explored through chapters that take examples of resistance in the city and apply spatial theories to disseminate them. Sören Groth discusses how de Certeau’s pairings ‘strategies/tactics’ and ‘space/place’, introduced in The Practice of Everyday Life (1998), can be looked at as a comparable terms for the much discussed post-foundational ‘political difference’. Groth recognises de Certeau’s strategies and tactics as practices of grounding and ungrounding respectively and outlines several examples where a tactical ungrounding has taken place in the urban environment. These examples, that include a changed walking pattern in Frankfurt/Main and the wider practice of fare dodging on public transport across Europe, demonstrate ‘subtle counterforce’ actioned by the societal other (p. 296). These actions push against strategies, those foundations and principals we are taught to live by, demonstrating grounding in (in)action. As well as serving as examples in understanding politics and the political, Groth also shows the impact small acts of ungrounding can have in urban space, encouraging the reader to rethink these kinds of quiet moments that may already being undertaken.

In the final chapter, Daniel Mullis uses Lefebvre and Rancière to look at recent resistance in Athens. While Lefebvre has been frequently called upon in discussion of the resurgence of unrest in cities that was seen in the late aughts this study looks beyond The Rights to the City instead to The Production of Space. This three-dimensional Lefebvrian understanding of space – spatial practice, representational and representations of – is easily understood in post-foundational terms. As Mullis writes, ‘[Lefebvre’s definition of] Space is a historical product of political production’ and so ‘grounding order is a political practice of producing space’ (p. 331). Through this the production of space become continually produced through existing power relations, which Mullis establishes with an examination of the behaviour of the police in Athens in the uprisings against governance in 2010. For Mullis, the police are a spatial product of political production, but this is not pre-destined, as demonstrated by the city containing both this order, or grounding, and the practice able to contest it.

[Un]Grounding is both a thorough contribution to post-foundational thought and to spatial studies by themselves. Both of these sides of the research support a new understanding and further development of each discipline. When applied more directly to urban studies, it gives a clearer language to what is being frequently and currently studied, particularly when looking at recent instances of unrest in the city. With a post-foundational lens, we are able to view urban space as complex, myriad and in constant production. Through this understanding that which is considered to be fundamental, those societal principals that nurture hegemony, can be broken down. [Un]Grounding as a publication, and ungrounding as a political act, are both critical and hopeful, praising of small actions and the potential there is to enact change. As is stated in the introduction of [Un]Grounding, this describes something that is not new but longstanding. Now carefully recorded and together in one place, we can be reminded of this and continue to chip away at what attempts to ground us.


Author Response

Response by: Friederike Landau-Donnelly , Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen, Netherlands

Lucas Pohl, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Nikolai Roskamm, University of Applied Sciences, Erfurt, Germany


Looking back at how we began thinking about the conception of this book in mid-2018, the world of that time appears to be a radically different one. Over the course of the book’s production process, we surely saw worlds crumbling. Since then, there has been a profound unsettling of established societal foundations around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a sudden rupture of several ‘truths’ of neoliberal and global market economies; various sorts of ‘freedom’ (regarding mobility, work, relationships, consumption, etc.) were suspended; even ‘the market’ itself seemed to have lost its foundation for a moment. The war in Ukraine led to an end of Pax Europaea, the ‘peace in Europe’, another well-established foundation in the Global North. The climate catastrophe, which already well existed in 2018, sends us daily reminders regarding the fragile nature, or absent ground, of the various foundations that hold this planet together – a banner summing up the climate crisis would probably read: ‘Nothing is forever’.

We seem to be living in post-foundational times. Perhaps even more so during the date of publication in 2021, compared to when we started the book in 2018. As Latour (2018: 8) states: ‘the sense of vertigo, almost of panic, that traverses all contemporary politics arises owing to the fact that the ground is giving way beneath everyone’s feet at once, as if we all felt attacked everywhere, in our habits and in our possessions.’ While this was true in 2018, it is even more true today. Of course, we still witness attempts to ascribe foundations or absolute rules to society, politics and space, which is why Latour (2018) also points out that there is ‘nothing more contemporary than to negotiate landing on some ground’ (p. 53). Yet, we are currently witnessing an increasing awareness that these grounds are not permanent, but fragile and contingent. Wherever you land, it will not be forever. Against this background, one might say that the majority of geographies today (and even more so, in the future) will be post-foundational geographies: subject to constant destabilisation, decentring, disruption – ungrounded and ungrounding geographies, in our terms.

In short, living in post-foundational times means wrestling with uncertainty. It means accepting that there is no ultimate (or ontological) security, learning to know that nothing will save us when we fall. Facing this uncertainty together is what we believe the future post-foundational project to encompass. Ultimately, the future-oriented post-foundational task is to join forces in testing and practicing new forms of solidarity, care, kinship and trust both within and beyond academia.

We are grateful that our edited volume [Un]Grounding: Post-foundational Geographies (2021) has elicited such vivid reactions. In response to the generous and intriguing thoughts voiced by Lazaros Karaliotas, Joe Blakey, Matina Kapsali and Nicola Guy in this book review symposium, we would like to thank the contributors for their unique and constructive summaries, questions and indications of future conceptual and practical implications of post-foundational geographies. Here are some thoughts that came to us while reading the comments.

We are convinced that restricting post-foundationalist thought to a particular set of theoretical thinkers, writers and traditions of academic knowledge production would be paradoxical from the outset, and would strangely recreate a foundationalist mindset which the book tries to unsettle. There certainly is a need to promote thinking ‘post-foundationalisms in plural’, as Matina Kapsali aptly coined it in her review. Against this background, our book does not, and cannot, provide a clearly demarcated or otherwise enclosed field of post-foundational geographies. Rather, it (only) offers a loose and inherently fragmented constellation of accounts assembled at a specific time of a debate. Within this precarious, non-canonical space, we fully acknowledge potential voids that are symptomatic for an [un]grounded positionality, and we agree that the ‘radical act’, to take up Joe Blakey’s phrasing, will be to work through these voids, an aim that our book certainly did not fully accomplish. We intended that the book would work as a springboard for more empirically-driven research and conceptual debate to examine the tensions between post-foundational political and spatial theories.

We have aimed to provide a genealogical retracing of the term, and its current discussion within a relatively small group of scholars, few of whom explicitly identify as geographers. On the one hand, the book aims for ‘more’– that is more discussion, more critical engagement, more extensive work on terms and concepts, but on the other hand, the book also yearns for possibilities and places to be ‘other’– that is other disciplinary angles onto post-foundationalism to destabilise hegemonic systems such as cognitive capitalism and meritocracy, patriarchy and heteronormativity. Post-foundational geographies are relevant to a range of space-attuned disciplines. Urban studies is certainly one of the most pressing of these disciplines, as Nicola Guy succinctly highlights in her review, and we hope that our book offers footage for more attempts to unrest urban space. Post-foundationalism has no limits and thus could intervene in various fields, such as geology, physics, real estate economics, water, land, and resource management studies. Furthermore, post-foundationalism could learn from broader interdisciplinary alliances, with women, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, arts, artistic research, design, sociology, history, to name but a few. Besides enhanced inter- or trans-disciplinary alliances, we also see potential of post-foundational geographies to engage in dialogues with conceptual tropes such as Black geographies, blue humanities, post-humanisms and geo-humanities.

Furthermore, the ‘othering’ of post-foundationalism interlinks with the apparent absence of other-than-Western perspectives, both as pieces of writing and as references to think about post-foundational geographies. As Derek Ruez (in Blakey et al., 2022: 6) rightfully argues in a recent intervention paper: ‘what is needed is not, primarily, a gesture of inclusion on the part of a postfoundational geographic project, whatever that has or will come to mean – but rather a recognition that elsewhere and otherwise is where much of the most exciting thinking is happening, and has been happening, whether or not it travels under a post-foundational label.’

In this spirit, and in light of the predominantly male voices in the book, we concurrently acknowledge the important work of existing and emerging post-foundational feminist scholars – besides the female authors in [Un]Grounding, the work of Bargetz (2016), Gebhardt (2019), Schad-Spindler et al. (2023). In addition, we also find geographers such as Linz and Secor (2021) and Valentine’s (2008) plea to live with difference to be chiming with post-foundational ideas. Paula Medina Garcia (Blakey et al., 2022: 6) states that ‘bridging intersectional feminist thought and post-foundational political geography opens new avenues to think through change and the political’, and we could not agree more that this is precisely what is urgently needed.

By bringing together intersectional feminisms and an enmeshed approach to politics and the political, post-foundational positionalities that embrace both an ethics of conflict and solidarity can further help to unsettle repressive identity categories and binaries. When Jens Fisker (2021: 78) writes of ‘many ways of being a post-foundationalist’, we hope to be a part of such an intrinsically multiple movement of engaged scholarship to provide and hold space for more and other post-foundationalisms to come – and thus to queer or unground post-foundationalism itself.



Bargetz B (2016) Ambivalenzen des Alltags. Neuorientierungen für eine Theorie des Politischen. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Blakey J, Machen R, Ruez D, et al. (2022) Intervention: Engaging post-foundational political theory requires an ‘enmeshed’ approach. Political Geography 99: 102689. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Fisker J (2021) Encountering post-foundationalism in JK Gibson-Graham’s space of pregnant negativity: Or, ungrounding the ground itself. In: Landau F, Pohl L, Roskamm N (eds) [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press, pp.63–80. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Gebhardt M (2019) The populist moment: affective orders, protest, and politics of belonging. Distinktion: Journal for Social Theory 22(2): 29–151. Google Scholar

Landau F, Pohl L, Roskamm N (2021) [Un]Grounding: Post-Foundational Geographies. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript. Google Scholar

Latour B (2018) Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge: Polity Press. Google Scholar

Linz J, Secor A (2021) Politics for the Impasse. In: Kingsbury P, Secor A (eds) A Place More Void. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, pp.199–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Schad-Spindler A, Landau-Donnelly F, Fridrik S, et al. (2023) Konfliktuelle Kulturpolitik. New York City, NY: Springer. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Valentine G (2008) Living with difference: Reflections on geographies of encounter. Progress in Human Geography 32(3): 323–337. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar



You need to be logged in to make a comment. Please Login or Register

There are no comments on this resource.

Return to Category