Tag Archives: nationalism

The power of quiet activism in troubled times

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

29099724245_c42e833c96_b

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

 

 

Italy: A Tale of Popular Geographic Circulation

by Benjamin Sacks

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

In 2002 Harvard historian David Armitage advanced his groundbreaking ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World’, a part-historiographical, part-theoretical attempt to describe the transnational movement of peoples, goods, and ideas in the early modern era. Admitting, of course, that the Atlantic Ocean cannot be conceived of in isolation to the Pacific, Mediterranean, or Indian oceans, or indeed to non-Atlantic continents (an point since strenuously articulated by Peter Coclanis), Armitage proposed three, intertwined paradigms: Circum-Atlantic, or ‘a transnational history’; Trans-Atlantic, or ‘an international history’; and Cis-Atlantic, or a ‘national or regional history within an Atlantic context’ (15). In sum, Armitage argued that we could not analyse or articulate national histories without critically accounting for time, context, and space. A study of Cadiz, Spain, for instance, historically one of the Atlantic’s most important and dynamic ports, cannot be comprehensively accomplished without: identifying its particular relationship(s) with other ports, nations, peoples, and ideas, its geography; or how ideas, groups, goods, and communications circumnavigate the sea (and the world) before returning in often exotic, repackaged forms.

While still a relatively recent phenomenon in historical study, geographers have long practised precisely the same analytical methods. Federico Ferretti’s recent Geographical Journal article is an excellent case-in-point. In ‘Inventing Italy – Geography, Risorgimento and National Imagination’, Ferretti documents and critiques how politicians, geographers, journalists, and merchants united – both consciously and unconsciously – to promote a modern worldview of ‘Italy’ from 1861, following Giuseppe Garibaldi’s successful efforts to merge the various Italian peninsular states. As their discussions and depictions of a unified Italy spread, so to did global conceptions of ‘Italy’ as a singular national identity, gradually erasing centuries-old perceptions of Italy as a squabbling cornucopia of city-states. From a narrowly topographical standpoint, Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich famously dispelled any notion of a united Italy as ‘a mere geographical expression’; a collection of micro-states connected only by their shared space on a geographically ideal and compact peninsula with convenient physical boundaries (403). But the coterie of writers, politicals, cartographers, and populists who tasked themselves with promoting post-1861 Italy swiftly dispelled this gross misconception.

Recalling Derek Gregory’s conception of ‘geographic imaginations’, Ferretti supports the view that political “realities” are often entire or partial geographical constructs, products of sociocultural and economic belief shifts. Or, to put another way, if they believe it, it is real. Italy had to market itself to become a legitimate force.

In the three decades prior to Italian unification, Count Annibal Ranuzzi devoted his life to the promotion of a serious, unified Italian geographic discourse. He and colleagues developed sophisticated correspondence networks with such established organisations as the Royal Geographical Society and l’Académie des sciences. Apart from his extraordinary technical and networking abilities, Ranuzzi was also an adept political strategist. In 1840, observing the rapid growth of formal geographic study throughout Europe and North America, the Count declared that a vital ‘shift’ must soon occur in the discipline’s maturation: ‘Critical geography, comparative geography, is just being born, and much time will be needed before it penetrates and prevails over the entire field of geographical studies’ (409). Geography, as Ranuzzi and a mélange of progressive European experts realised, could be promoted as a potent political tool – the active, engaged study of people, power, and states.

Geography is a remarkably natural means of political persuasion. Maps, as Ranuzzi depicted, beautifully lend themselves to manipulation, self-interest, and national celebration, á la J B Harley and David Woodward’s scholarship. The printed word – journal articles, journalism, literary accounts, and travel writing – on Italy too promoted a sense of ‘the nation’ both before and after Italian unification. Although Ranuzzi was sadly marginalised following unification for his complex political relationships, his efforts – as well as that of his contemporaries – strongly influenced the establishment of national, pan-Italian learned geographical societies and even, in the mould of the Royal Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society, Italian imperial expeditions serving dual academic-political goals.

books_icon Armitage, D, ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World‘, in Armitage, D and Braddick, M, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

books_icon Coclanis, P, ‘Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History‘, Journal of World History 13.1 (Spring, 2002): 169-82.

books_icon Ferretti, F, ‘Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and Natiional Imagination: The International Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century‘, The Geographical Journal 180.4 (Dec., 2014): 402-13.

Renaming and Rebranding Place

By Chris Post and Derek H. Alderman

Terry McAuliffe, Democrat Governor of Virginia, USA, has a difficult decision to make. He has promised a change in Virginia school textbooks—to include “East Sea” as a name for the Sea of Japan. McAuliffe has recently backed away from this pledge, but rival Republican legislators are pressing the governor on the issue.  This name change, meant to satisfy a community (Korean-Americans) increasingly important to Virginia politics, has angered one of the state’s  major trading partners, Japan (Vozella 2014).  

Place names dot our maps and our imaginations on a daily basis. They are essential components to place-making and work as mnemonic devices in creating place and group identity. As such, place names, or toponyms, are inherently political and often contentious—as the East Sea/Sea of Japan example illustrates. Recent critical literature on toponymic change has focused on the role of government elites in controlling place names, but little has been written until recently about the role of companies and private financial interests in the naming process.

Using an example from Ohio, USA, we show in an Area paper how toponyms change over time and how these changes become socially charged debates over identity, nationalism, and economic development. This particular project looks at how New Berlin, Ohio, changed its name to North Canton. On the surface, this change looks relatively simple—wartime nationalism spurred the change from a name reflective of the area’s German ancestry to one that identified the village’s nearest major city. In New Berlin, however, national and global economics also played a large role in this sudden name change. More specifically, we discuss the influence that two related New Berlin corporations—the W.H. Hoover and Hoover Suction Sweeper companies—had on renaming New Berlin through their initiation and support of a public petition to change the name. Our analysis of this change focuses on three distinct forms: place re-branding, the “fetishization,” and symbolic annihilation of local Germanic identity, and the impact of regional and international economics on the local landscape. Today, only a hint of North Canton’s German heritage exists, a sign for New Berlin Bubbles and Suds laundromat.

New Berlin Bubbles and Suds on North Main Street in North Canton Source: Photo by Chris W. Post

New Berlin Bubbles and Suds on North Main Street in North Canton
Source: Photo by Chris W. Post

Place names are powerful symbols of identity, territory, and political power. We don’t know how the political tumult in Virginia—over the naming of a sea half a world away—will end. But, we have been here before. If not for the desires of a pair of corporations (which, combined, employed approximately 33% of their community), New Berlin, and its German roots, may not have been ‘wiped off the map’ of America.

About the Authors: Chris Post is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, Kent State University at Stark, Ohio, USA. Derek Alderman is a Professor and the Department Head at the Department of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA.

books_icon Post, C. W. and Alderman, D. H. 2014 ‘Wiping New Berlin off the map’: political economy and the de-Germanisation of the toponymic landscape in First World War USA,  Area 46: 83–91. doi: 10.1111/area.12075

60-world2 Laura Vozella, 2014, Va. Textbook bill on alternative Sea of Japan name heads toward a partisan showdown The Washington Post, 29 January 2014