Speaker: William Callahan (London School of Economics)

Although gardens are typically appreciated as peaceful spaces of apolitical serenity, this essay highlights how they can provide new sites and sensibilities that complicate our understanding of politics. First it compares imperial gardens in China, Thailand, and Russia to examine how they heterotopically construct social order and world order. Here heterotopia not only integrates a diverse assemblage of materials from Europe and Asia, but also plays with different ideologies, experiences, and concepts. The paper then considers how these aesthetic conventions and practical techniques explain ideology and excite affect at two national war memorials: the Nanjing Massacre Memorial in China and the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan. Here garden-building is theory-building: by producing new sites and sensibilities, it creatively shapes our understanding of politics, social order, and world order.

William A. Callahan is professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2020-21 he held a Taiwan Fellowship at National Taiwan University. His research examines the interplay of theory/culture/ politics, and visual global politics. Callahan’s most recent book ‘Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2020) won the 2022 International Political Sociology section Best Book Award from the International Studies Association. His other work includes China: The Pessoptimist Nation (OUP, 2010) and the documentary film “Great Walls” (2020), which asks why we hate Trump’s wall and love the Great Wall of China (https://sensiblepolitics.net/great-walls-journeys-from-ideology-to-experience). 

IHR Seminar SeriesHistory of Gardens and Landscapes