In the fall of 2012, the Yale Working Group on Globalization and Culture began a project to explore the connotations of a keyword in contemporary culture: occupation. We had presented our earlier research, “Going into Debt” [http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_topic/going_into_debt/] to the encampment at Occupy Boston, and we wanted to reflect on the ways the idea of occupying public space had captured the global imagination in the crisis of the last several years.
At once a word for an exceptional state, and for the ordinary practices of making a living, occupation houses multiple histories and geographies. Beginning from the Occupy movement of 2011–2012, we investigated the occupation of, and pre-occupation with, public, natural, and psychic spaces in the wake of crisis, as well as the legacies and afterlives of colonial and anticolonial occupations in intimate and public spaces. Our papers examine the occupation of rivers, factories, parks, and airwaves; the occupation by “peace-keeping” security sectors; the occupations of “coolies” and personal trainers. Occupation is thus revealed to be spatial, bodily, environmental, psychic, and global. All our projects collectively have an investment in the idea of occupation as a representative phenomenon—as a way of thinking through the problems of 21st century work, life, and postcolonial legacies. “Spaces and Times of Occupation” was first presented in the spring of 2013 at the American Studies Program at Yale University and at the Left Forum in New York.