Category Archives: Area

Towards a more ethical geographical praxis: western privilege and postcoloniality

By Mark Griffiths, Northumbria University

j-_vermeer_-_el_geografo_museo_stadel_francfort_del_meno_1669

Johannes Vermeer The Geographer (1669). Available via United States Public Domain license.

Geographers have never been more acutely aware of the historical and contemporary cleavages of which we – or so many of us – are often both critics and beneficiaries. This year’s RGS-IBG Conference carries the theme of ‘Decolonising Geographical Knowledges’, while the other large conference, the AAG Meeting, is currently reacting to the damage brought by President Trump’s recent anti-Islam Executive Orders. These are worrying times that lay bare the legacies of formal colonialism and the persistence of western privilege. Particularly worrying is that geographers from outside the publishing heartlands – whose work is invaluable if we are to know anything at all about diverse places and people – will, as always, feel the brunt of these neocolonial measures brought by the new Trump Administration.

There is then a renewed focus on the haves and have-nots of people across the globe, geographers very much included. In this heated moment it feels very new, but while it might be true that we have never seen anything like Donald Trump before, it is not novel to have privileges skewed across space. This is not at all to dismiss the deleterious acts we’ve seen recently (and the silent complicity of too many), but it does serve to recall that our discipline has grown out of a history of uneven power relations with post/colonial places and people. As I point out in my recently published paper in Area, part of the privilege of western geographers in terms of ‘mobilities, institutional prestige, access to publishing avenues and so forth’ is owed to the spoils of empire.

We can therefore understand the privilege of western academics and geographers as historically constituted, where, say, the ‘permission to narrate’ (as Edward Said put it) or the ability to cross borders is tied intimately with one’s ancestral position within colonial-era relations. Couple this with important feminist interventions on the situatedness of knowledge and positionality as relational, and the self-reflection (or ‘hyper-self-reflection’ as Gayatri Spivak calls for) incumbent on us all when we embark on fieldwork in a “postcolonial context” can reveal much about how the past bears on the present and the means to carry out research.

For me, a white, British man working at a UK institution, those means are great. I therefore must include myself in a loose category of ‘privileged western researcher’ that has – rightly – brought much introspection from that part of our research community involved in working towards a de- or post-colonial praxis for geography, a work that will continue at this year’s biggest conferences.

In my paper* I consider the label of ‘privileged western researcher’ from a postcolonial and historical perspective. I argue that if “our” (a collective term I seek to pick apart) positionality is historically contingent with colonial-era relations, then the attendant colonial histories within that might be (re)considered through their, following the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty, heterogeneity. More specifically, I seek to bring the politics of class to disrupt the assumption of equivalence between Britishness (or western-ness) and unvariegated privilege.

To this end I turn to positionality as relational and personal and consider my own relationship with Empire, making what I consider an important point: ‘I’m a working class boy from the Industrial North of England, my parents’ parents … did not study at any of our great public schools or prestigious universities … my forebears did not order the passage of knowledge from Africa and the Orient to Kensington Gore and Oxbridge’. The argument I make therefore is that colonial-era relations across space were and are multivalent and histories of domination cannot draw so clearly the contours of researcher privilege in postcolonial settings.

From here I propose an empirical potential for more a more ethical praxis in the field, making the argument that in the business of talking about the unfairness of unequal opportunities, of assigned societal positions and trajectories, to know what it is to be sometimes outside, a working-class background (finally) becomes an academic resource that may just make solidarity with less-privileged Others come that bit more readily. In the article I give a brief example of how I believe this played out in fieldwork in India.

What this brings to these turbulent times is something of nuance to the idea that western geographers always already carry with them the histories of colonial exploration and expansion; just as gender and race can give the lie to this assumption, so can class. I look forward to discussing this further at the RGS-IBG Conference this coming August. As for what this might mean in the context of the ongoing debate around the AAG and travelling to the US, if little else a painstaking process of (communal) introspection might help us better negotiate the dissonant positions of critic and beneficiary of empire and its spoils.

* Mark’s paper inaugurates Area‘s new regular feature, ‘Ethics in/of geographical research’. The Area Editors welcome submissions from across the geographical community that consider diverse, contemporary concerns that fall under the broad remit of ethics.

About the author: Mark Griffiths is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Centre for International Development at Northumbria University. His research is split between two sites: in Palestine he focuses on the political affects of the occupation in West Bank, tracking the embodied aspects of Palestinian activism and resistance. In India his work has focused on NGO and volunteer work on livelihood and sanitation projects in both urban and rural areas.

60-world2 AAG Council 2017 AAG Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order http://news.aag.org/2017/01/aag-statement-on-president-trumps-executive-order/ 

books_icon Chakrabarty D 2007 Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference  Princeton University Press

60-world2 Fenton S 2017 Theresa May ‘very happy’ to host Donald Trump on state visit, despite petition reaching 1m signatures The Independent 30 January 2017 

books_icon Griffiths M 2017 From heterogeneous worlds: western privilege, class and positionality in the South. Area, 49: 2–8. doi:10.1111/area.12277 (free to access)

books_icon Haraway D 1988 Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective Feminist Studies 14, 575-99

books_icon Rose G 1997 Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics Progress in Human Geography 21, 305-320

books_icon Said E 1984 Permission to Narrate Journal of Palestine Studies 13, 27-48

books_icon Spivak G C 1999 A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present Harvard University Press

The power of quiet activism in troubled times

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

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Public protests are not the only way to effect change. Image credit: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue CC-By 2.0

The rise of nationalism and far-right political parties across Europe and America shocked many in 2016. In June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after a leave campaign, which was partly based on stirring up fears of immigration. In November, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States after a disturbing campaign in which he made outrageous racist, misogynistic and xenophobic claims. Following both of these events there was a significant increase in race and religious hate crimes in both the US and the UK, with the latter having a staggering 41% increase.

Within the media and social media there have been a wealth of opinion pieces, blog posts, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts expressing anger, sadness, or confusion over how these events could have possibly occurred and what to do now. Out on the streets, thousands have marched and protested against Brexit, Trump’s win, and denounced racism, xenophobia and sexism.

While these public and vocal forms of protest and activism are vital and significant, it is important not to overlook the value of more quiet forms of activism, which can bring about change through everyday acts of kindness and subversion. Laura Pottinger’s recently published research in Area argues for the power of ‘quiet activism’ which she describes as small and embodied acts of doing and making that are either implicitly or explicitly political.

A pertinent example of quiet activism would be a befriending scheme between asylum seekers, refugees and settled residents in Newcastle, England described in Kye Askins’ research paper in Transactions. During this scheme, partners would often have to work through unfamiliar, confusing and exclusionary bureaucracy together. Through working together, talking, sharing experiences and emotions, the pairs’ relationships developed and this enabled greater understandings of each other as multi-faceted individuals. Those taking part in the programme noted that their involvement led to conversations with family, friends and co-workers where they have challenged prejudice, potentially changing views of those close to them. Kye argues that this type of programme is important not just at the local level but beyond, encouraging policy makers and academics to pay attention to the emotions of intercultural engagements as these are key for drawing connections between people. However, Kye recognises that more research is required to explore how the emotional citizenry she calls for is applicable across wider scales.

For those struggling to determine what to do to in the current social and political climate, it is worth considering what everyday smaller acts one could engage in to create change even just within a local scale.  That is not to lay the burden of change on the shoulders of people and absolve the wider institutions and governments of their responsibilities, nor is it an argument against vocal protest and activism, but it is useful to consider all ways to effect positive change.

books_icon Askins, K. (2016) ‘Emotional citizenry: everyday geographies of befriending, belonging, and intercultural encounterTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12135

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Brexit protest: March for Europe rallies held across UKBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Race and religious hate crimes rose 41% after EU voteBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Foster, P. (2016) ‘The rise of the far-Right in Europe is not a false alarmThe Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Okeowo, A. (2016) ‘Hate on the rise after Trump’s election‘ The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Osnos, E. (2016) ‘The gathering storm of protest against TrumpThe New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

books_icon Pottinger, L. (2016) ‘Planting the seeds of a quiet activismArea doi:10.1111/area.12318

world_icon Toynbee, P. (2016) ‘Vote Leave’s fear-the-foreigner campaign will cause lasting divisionsThe Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2016

 

 

Planting the seeds of a quiet activism

Laura Pottinger, University of Manchester

LP allotment pic.jpg

Author’s photo

Though seeds are fundamental to all food systems they have evaded scrutiny in much of the discourse around local and alternative food networks. With rising interest in community gardens, urban allotments and ‘growing your own’ food, some gardeners have begun to question the provenance and suitability of commercially available seeds, and have learnt how to save their own.

‘Seed savers’ are gardeners who cultivate their own fruits and vegetables before selecting, drying and storing the seeds to provide future crops for themselves and others. They claim that home-grown seed is better suited to small-scale, organic systems. What’s more, self-sufficient seed production provides opportunities for resisting the control of what is argued to be an increasingly corporate and concentrated industrial seed system.

Conservation networks, like Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library and local seed swap events connect seed savers so that they can share their seed harvest and source unusual varieties at a low cost. In doing so, seed saving networks extend gardeners’ individual and everyday practices with plants and seeds among a wider gardening community, and contribute to the biodiversity of British gardens.

On February 5th 2017, Seedy Sunday takes place in Brighton and Hove. As the UK’s largest and longest running annual seed swap, the event brings gardeners together to swap seeds (one packet can be swapped for either another packet or a fifty-pence donation), exchange gardening advice and skills, listen to talks and learn about local food projects and environmental groups.

seed swap table.jpg

Seed swap table. Author’s photo

In a new paper in Area, I explore how seed savers’ practices of cultivating and exchanging can be understood as a kind of ‘quiet activism’. Though the relatively mundane activities of tending plants and sharing seeds may seem at odds with the vocal and combative protest often associated with traditional accounts of activist behaviour, they can contribute to environmentally and socially progressive goals.

Seed savers propagate and protect rare and heirloom seeds that are outlawed by EU legislation prohibiting the sale of unregistered varieties. Swapping and gifting seed also generates feelings of connectedness amongst extended collectives of growers. As plant material is circulated and sown, it forges links between diverse growing spaces, connecting gardeners over space and time.

A Guardian article exploring ‘the cult of quiet’ highlights a contemporary desire for quietness, and explores the recent trend for silent reading parties, dining and even dating. Occupying a purposeful rather than passive embodied stance, quiet activism seems to promise both radical potential and the possibility of retreat. Seed savers suggest that their tangible practices of making and growing hold greater currency in cultivating environmentally and socially just food systems than vocal, antagonistic protest. But is there also a risk that these quiet acts go unheard?

This research with seed savers prompts geographers to look beyond noisy and disruptive activism to expose small, quietly subversive acts of gardening, crafting, making and doing. These varied forms of action provide a rich terrain for researchers to explore activisms performed at varying volumes, and their unique possibilities and limitations.

About the author:  Laura Pottinger is a Research Associate and Senior Tutor in Geography at the University of Manchester. Laura’s research explores ethical food consumption, focusing on alternative food initiatives. 

References

books_icon Pottinger L 2016 Planting the seeds of a quiet activism Area doi: 10.1111/area.12318

Sokell A 2016 Saving seeds, one teaspoon at a time The Guardian Online Retrieved 12 December 2016

60-world2 Williams L 2016 Ssshhh! How the cult of quiet can change your life The Guardian Online Retrieved 12 December 2016

60-world2 Seedy Sunday http://www.seedysunday.org/

60-world2 Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl

 

 

United and divided responses to complex urban issues

By Christina Culwick, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South Africa

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Flood damage in Ekurhuleni, 2011. Author’s photograph

In November 2016, Ekurhuleni (South Africa) was hit by a spate of heavy floods that left people dead, houses washed away, cars under water and infrastructure irreparably damaged. These floods came in the wake of an extended drought which was experienced across the country. A quick assessment of the situation may lead to the conclusion that freak weather events are on the rise, and that floods are the inevitable consequence of extreme rainstorms. However, cause and effect are seldom so neatly defined, particularly in urban settings.

There are increasing suggestions that extreme weather events and climate change will have the greatest impact in cities, where people are concentrated and many of the natural systems that could provide buffers against extreme weather have been removed or degraded. When one starts to deconstruct the causes and impacts of natural disasters, the messiness and interconnectedness of contributing factors quickly become evident. Natural disasters occur at the intersection of social, political and environmental systems.

There is growing emphasis within both academia and practice on the need for integrated knowledge and disaster management solutions (Mercer et al 2010). However this is only possible through rethinking problems and combining a range of knowledge which is traditionally kept separate (Robinson 2008). Disasters, such as those experienced in Ekurhuleni, provide opportunities to reflect on the current understanding of disasters and approaches to managing them, and find more effective ways of anticipating, preparing and coping with disasters.

A recently published article in Area (Culwick and Patel, 2016) uses set of floods in Atlasville, Ekurhuleni, which took place between 2006 and 2010, to make the case for transdisciplinary approaches in disaster risk reduction. The Atlasville community experienced a series of floods between 2016-2010. Depending on who one spoke to, different people had different assessments of what led to the unprecedented floods in the areas. There was evidence to support some claims that the floods were associated with heavy rainfall events, or extended periods of rain. Other claims placed greater emphasis on the failings of the municipality in proactively managing flood risk by neglecting maintenance of the stormwater system, allowing upstream developments without sufficient rainwater management interventions and poor coordination between municipal departments. Based on their assessment of the cause of the floods, different people came to different conclusions about what flood management response would be most appropriate.

However, if the range of knowledge and perceptions are combined it is possible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. Culwick and Patel (2016) explore how, when people are able to reframe the problem in ways that cut across sectors and individual perspectives, it becomes much easier to see interconnections, blindspots and where different components have a compounding effect. The interventions that emerged from integrating the different knowledge and perceptions highlighted the importance of not just a single approach, but a multi-pronged approach that deliberately enhances the absorptive and adaptive capacity within each of the natural, infrastructural, municipal and social systems.

The significance of the research findings is twofold. Firstly, the community’s knowledge and social capital emerged as an important resource to assist with monitoring, adaptation and disaster response. Secondly, in the context of disaster management, individual factors in isolation may not pose major threat of disaster, however when these factors compound they can lead to significant disaster risk. It is thus critical to adopt an integrated approach to understanding and managing disaster risk.

About the author: Christina Culwick is a research at Gauteng City-Region Observatory. Her research interests lie in urban sustainability transitions, resilience, environmental governance, and transforming Gauteng towards a liveable, inclusive and just city-region.

References

Chernick I and Mbangeni L 2016 6 Killed in Gauteng flood horror IOL News

Joubert J 2016 SA drought not broken after driest year in history The Tines

books_icon Culwick C and Patel Z 2016 United and divided responses to complex urban issues: insights on the value of a transdisciplinary approach to flooding risk Area DOI: 10.1111/area.12282.

books_icon Mercer J Kelman I Taranis L and Suchet-Pearson S 2010 Framework for integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge for disaster risk reduction Disasters 34 214–239

books_icon Robinson J 2008 Being undisciplined: Transgressions and intersections in academia and beyond Futures 40(1) 70-86

Trumping Ignorance: Engaging with Complexity and Difficult Topics

By Kieran Phelan, University of Nottingham 

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As the news came through that Donald Trump had been successful in beating Hillary Clinton to the White House, the world stood in shock. No matter which side of the political divide you positioned yourself on, it’s fair to say that his success was surprising. In fact, during the run up to the election, most of the professional pollsters, pundits and political hacks predicted the contrary. On the morning of the day after, I sat (in a state of shock) listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. The presenters were dissecting the results and exploring the political ramifications of the incoming presidential regime. As part of this discussion, an attempt was made to summarise the contemporary geo-political situation Trump will inherit. The discussants reviewed Trump’s campaign strategy and mused over his many (misleading) statements. What haunted most of them was the slogan that dogged his campaign; ‘Make America Great Again’. Behind this, a grab-bag of diverse political groups somehow successfully appropriated this tag line and legitimised their own varying political agendas. Something so simple had morphed into something more complex. Despite this apparent complexity, Trump became an expert in avoiding detail. The how’s, what’s and why’s were rarely (if at all) addressed. In fact, the whole election campaign seemed overwhelmingly shallow. Frustrated with immigration? ‘Let’s build a wall’. Outright racism and xenophobia? ‘Freedom of speech’. Everyday sexism and misogyny? ‘Locker room talk’. Discussions that should have been about policy, ideas and agendas seemed worryingly to descend into bumper sticker phrases.

Unfortunately, American politics doesn’t have a monopoly on simplistic political debate. The EU referendum debate had discussion points that were equally narrow.  Concerned about immigration? ‘Get out the EU’. Questioning national sovereignty? ‘Get out of the EU’. Worried about competition, wages and investment? ‘Get out of the EU’.  Again, complex concerns boiled down into an overly simplistic decision; in or out. Theresa May’s‘Brexit means Brexit’ slogan beholds a similarly elusive quality. Yet when trying to understand what Brexit actually entails, we are too often left in the dark. Where on earth are the details? Where is the time for thought, and spaces for meaningful contemplation? It seems if it doesn’t easily fit onto a poster, or in a newspaper column, viral infomercial, or a political broadcast, it just isn’t worth mentioning.

With these political thoughts in mind, I sat down and read Luchs and Miller’s (2016) article exploring participatory visual methodologies for engaging with refugee stories. Utilising personal stories from three refugees who fled persecution in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, they powerfully advocated for the use of digital stories, photo-essays, mixed media collages and workshops in geographical work.  In adopting these methodologies, they produced ‘Mapping Memories’, a touring educational project that enabled understanding about the lives and experiences of refugee youth. By uniting with educators, film makers and policy advocates, Luchs and Miller (2016) explain how scholar-activism can aid refugees to tell of their own experiences on their own terms. In doing so, spaces are created that cultivate supportive environments for reflection and engagement. There was a deep desire to ensure audiences walked away with an understanding of the challenges young refugee face, as well an appreciation of the obligations countries have who’ve signed up to the Refugee Convention of 1951. Contrary to much news coverage, helping refugees is not an act of charity that we can choose to opt in or out. It is a duty that we are legally bound to uphold. It does not matter what their age is, or their ‘worthiness’ of help, but simply the recognition that they are refugees fleeing desperate situations.

This project was naturally challenged by ethical concerns, of which the authors thoughtfully engaged. Not least, the authors desired to ensure the topic was covered in a sensitive and respectful manner. Efforts were taken to ensure violence was not depicted as an act of the ‘other’, and they didn’t want to present personal stories from ‘victims’ and context by ‘experts’. Stereotypes and lazy troupes were also directly tackled through open-ended questioning and conversational interrogation. In this, appreciating that thinking takes time and needs space, was a central concern.

Part of the project’s success also was attributed to the use of entry stories; short introductions that drew out commonalities. Rather than dwelling on what separated participants, the project worked on creating spaces in which participants found likeness. From likeness, came empathy and from empathy came thought and reflection. More powerfully, the project disrupted the marginalising discourses that surrounds refugees, and enabled the project’s participants to move beyond a simplistic ‘poor them’ mentality. In doing so, it hoped to inspire awareness and political action. It facilitated engagement and provided accessible space for much needed nuance and complexity.

As I return to my news feeds, I see it is filled with three minute videos, images and memes attempting to explain away Trump’s election. They all attempt to capture, in just a few short sound-bites, what on earth went wrong (or right, depending on your political position). Whilst all of us who are politically active, are guilty from time to time of lazy activism, I can’t help but think perhaps this is part of the problem. It is lazy. In sharing and re-sharing our quick, three-minute sound bites, , we perpetuate politics on those terms. The voices we hear from are often limited, lacking in diversity. As a result, the engagement we have with the ‘real’ issues is often reduced. It lacks deep reflection. The world is incredibly complex and requires meaningful thought. When engaging with the political realities of the world, we owe it to ourselves to create spaces of deep reflection and engagement. We must ask the tough questions, pry open and debate the difficult, and relish the challenging. Instead of relying on superficial surface statements, we must strive to create spaces for meaningful understanding and engagement. It’s only through muddling through the messy and difficult, appreciating both depth and nuance, that then can we lay the foundations to trump ignorance.

60-world2 Cormier, R (2016) Meet the Man Behind Biden-Pranking-Trump Memes  USA Today 17 November 2016

books_icon Luchs, M. and Miller, E. (2016), Not so far away: a collaborative model of engaging refugee youth in the outreach of their digital stories. Area, 48: 442–448. doi:10.1111/area.12165

60-world2 Mason P (2016) Brexit is a fake revolt- working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite The Guardian Online 20 June 2016

60-world2 Poole S (2016) ‘Make America Great Again’ – why are liberals losing the war of soundbites? The Guardian Online  13 November 2016

60-world2 Spayd L (2016) Why ‘Locker Room Talk’ is No Excuse New York Times 8 November 2016

 

 

Café nation? Growth and change in the UK café industry

Dr Jennifer Ferreira, Coventry University

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Photo credit: Dr Jennifer Ferreira

Walk down any UK high street and you are likely to be faced with a suite of café options from a series of high street chains, independent cafes, to fast food outlets offering café beverages.

The café industry is one of the most successful retail sectors in the UK experiencing significant growth over the last decade, with over 20,000 outlets across the country and estimated to potentially rise to 27,000 by 2020. Visiting cafes has now become commonplace for many in the UK, and their presence on the high street is creating a range of dynamics in different urban spaces.

My paper titled ‘Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry’, recently published in the journal Area, examines why the café industry has grown so much and considers some of the implications this is having on UK urban spaces. While its main aim was to provide an overview of the café industry in the UK, more importantly it highlights why more research is needed on the many facets of the café industry as part of a new economic and social geography of urban spaces; from the impact they have on the communities in which they are located, to the plethora of business forms that are emerging as part of the industry.

The presence of cafes in the UK is not a new phenomenon, in fact the café has a much longer history going right back to the 17th century (Green 2013). Although, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s where the growth began to gain pace with the introduction of the high street chains with which we are all now so familiar. While the market may be dominated by the ‘big three’ Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero, the make-up of the café industry is actually very diverse and is made up of different types of organisations, networks and business models, particularly within the independent sector. This paper presents an illustrative typology of the different café types in the UK as a starting point for future work on the impact of cafés.

One of several drivers of the growth for the café industry has been a growing awareness of high quality coffee, and as a consequence, there has been an explosion of speciality coffee shops and roasters in recent years. With a wider range of expertly blended, or single origin coffees, combined with a suite of different brewing methods, from the aeropress to the syphon, there is now more on offer for the coffee connoisseur than ever before – as evidenced by a growing number of speciality coffee guides to different regions in the UK.

At the same time alternative business models have emerged, for example, an international chain that has a growing presence in the UK is Ziferblat, where customers pay for the time they spend, rather than the products they consume. Providing spaces for people to meet, work, socialise and so on, these café spaces are providing much more than a standard café, they offer a social space.

These are just two vignettes of activity that are taking place in the café industry in the UK, and while some are explored in my article, the paper very much acts as a starting point to argue that much more research is needed to explore the UK as a ‘café society’ (Tjora and Scambler 2014).

About the author: Dr Jennifer Ferreira is a Senior Research Assistant in the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University. The research presented in Jennifer’s Area article is part of wider project on the role of cafes in urban spaces – Spaces of Community – you can find out more about this project on the research blog ‘Café Spaces’.

books_icon Ferreira J 2016 Café nation? Exploring the growth of the UK café industry Area doi:10.1111/area.12285

books_icon Allegra Strategies 2015 Project Café 2015, Allegra Strategies

60-world2 Green M 2013 The lost world of the London Coffee House.

60-world2 Brian’s Coffee Spot. Available at: http://www.brian-coffee-spot.com/

60-world2 The Independent Coffee Guide http://www.indycoffee.guide/ 

 

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

By Kieran Phelan, University of Nottingham

It is remarkable that this summer marked four years since London played host to the world’s Olympians and Paralympians. ‘London 2012’ was arguably one of the most exciting opportunities in London’s recent history, to showcase to the world the very best of competitive sport. Whilst the opening ceremony’s fireworks, theatre and show-biz pizazz certainly laced the event with an almost-perfectly staged veneer, London’s Olympic Games were also politically, quite contentious. Despite providing the world’s avid sports fans with just under a month of high-quality sport, its mobilisation, organization and promised legacy have since been marred by questions of worth and value.  In times of austerity, some have argued that the London Olympic Games were a gigantic waste of time and money that not only excluded local residents, but stoked London’s rapidly gentrifying transformation. As Bridget Diamond-Welch aptly describes, with the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the Olympics, we easily can forget just one thing. In the very location of the Olympic Games, not too long ago, were businesses, factories, residents and homes.

This summer’s Olympics and Paralympics were no different. In fact, it was memorably political. Just hours before the opening ceremony, thousands of activists marched along Copacabana seafront protesting the government’s decision to host the Olympics at a time when Rio’s government is cash-strapped. Local people seized the international limelight to publicly question the appropriateness of the Olympics, and mobilise around their shared grievances. By public disruption, protesters were scratching off the event’s polished façade to re-narrate the sporting mega-event. They wanted to air their frustrations with the way the Olympic Games were organised, which adversely affected poorer communities. Exclusion and eviction were the necessary costs of ‘getting ready’ for the Games.

Sporting mega-events such as the Olympic Games are really interesting. Not only do they provide opportunities to plug into great sport, but they also serve as a lens through which to find international commonality. Sport enables cultural exchange and establishes bonds of friendship. They are, importantly, not just about what happens on the field but what happens off it too. Of course, they are about professional competition, but often, they also seek to achieve broader goals; engagement, participation and legacy. In striving for these aspirations, it is important to ask not only who is engaged and taking part, and ultimately who isn’t. Susan Fitzpatrick’s recent article in Area directly attends to this issue, reviewing how the political subjectivity of local residents were shaped and influenced by another sporting mega-event; Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Using the preparations for the Games as a starting point, Fitzpatrick prises open discussion about how political subjectivities are necessarily placed. Urban mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games are viewed as important catalysts for political articulation. They provide the impetus for communities to focus their opposition and articulate their anxieties, excluding and including in equal measure. Finding spaces for discussion and political organization are necessary parts of this process. Fitzpatrick goes on to discuss how Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games drew into view placed political struggles. Interestingly, the Games were also presented as their solution. Fitzpatrick draws upon the disconnection between ‘event time’ and political time; timescales that forever seem incongruous with one another. ‘Official’ opportunities for engagement can be, simultaneously, temporally-bound sites of dialogue, subversion, resistance and re-narration. Official discourses frame and contextualise resistance, and have real material effects on how people criticise and engage with sporting mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games.

When reflecting upon these ideas, I thought back just a few short weeks ago to the discussion surrounding the Rio Games. I asked myself what are the things that most of us will remember; the colour of the water in the diving pool? The outfits of the Olympians? The night-time antics in Copacabana? Unsurprisingly, the salient thoughts lack depth or substance. Whilst it’s exciting to plug into a month of sport, perhaps we all too easily plug-out, change channels and forget, once it’s all over? It’s just great sport for most of us. We must not forget however, the Games are also people lives and livelihoods too. Fitzpatrick’s (2016) article perfectly sums up the importance of inclusion, valuing the mega-event’s associated political questions that are too readily dismissed. It would seem, sporting mega-events are not always about the winning, but it truly is the taking part that counts.

books_icon Diamond-Welch B 2012, August 20. The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification. Sociology in Focus Retrieved October 7, 2016

books_icon Fitzpatrick S 2016. Who is taking part? Political Subjectivity and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Area doi: 10.1111/area.12295

60-world2 Hunt E 2016, August 10. Why is the Olympic diving pool green? The good news is it’s not urine. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 10, 2016

60-world2 Morby A 2016, August 8. Fice of the best outfits sported by Rio 2016 Olympians during the opening ceremony. Dezeen Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 NBC News 2016, August 5. Olympic Tourists, Athletes Enjoying Nightlife Ahead of Rio Opening Ceremonies. NBC News Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Watts J 2015, July 19. Rio 2016: ‘The Olympics has destroyed my home’. The Guardian Online Retrieved October 7, 2016

60-world2 Williams R 2016, July 22. Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money. The Guardian Online  Retrieved October 7, 2016