Tag Archives: Networks

Sochi and the spatialities of contentious politics

By Helen Pallett

2013_WSDC_Sochi_-_Zbigniew_Brodka_2

Image credit: Sacha Krotov

With the Winter Olympics drawing to a close at the weekend, global attention has moved away from Sochi, at least until March 7th when the Winter Paralympics begins. The Sochi Winter Olympics have been notable, not only for the achievements of the athletes involved, but for their politics. The site itself was heavily monitored and policed to curb the activities of ‘extremists’ out to disrupt and injure, and many activists were arrested or forcibly moved from the location. But Sochi itself also took on a broader political symbolism as an emblem of the struggle for LGBT rights. Some states such as the US deliberately sent prominent gay sports people to Sochi to head-up their delegations, whilst many news outlets, such as The Guardian, The New Statesman and Channel 4 in the UK, took the opportunity to highlight their support for the cause of equal rights, particularly through the use of the symbolic rainbow flag. President Putin meanwhile notoriously told gay people that they were very welcome in Sochi but that they should leave children alone.

The Sochi Winter Olympics then was a moment of contentious politics, created by the increasingly draconian laws being passed recently in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the releasing of several prominent activists from prison, in the run up to when the world’s eyes would be on Sochi for the games. But there is also a complex spatiality to this contentious politics. In a study of the contentious politics of immigrant workers’ rights in the United States Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard and Kristin Sziarto argued that it was important to understand the role of scale, place, networks, positionality and mobility in shaping and forming part of this politics.

Scale is important to understanding the contested politics of Sochi, as movements and debates occurred at multiple overlapping and interrelating scales. From the policing or transgression of the micro-spaces around the Olympic site, to the scale of Sochi as a city which became an emblem of the LGBT rights struggle, to the scale of Russia as a country and legal and political context of the Winter Olympics, to the global scale of the Olympics itself with the world’s attention on developments in Sochi. These different scales interacted with one another, influencing  other processes and producing new political effects, which in this case served to magnify the issue of LGBT rights beyond this one city.

The politics of place are also clearly at play in Sochi, with the city becoming so much of an emblem of broader struggles for LGBT rights, linked to its fleeting importance at a site for a major sporting event. Sochi’s reputation as a resort for Russia’s wealthy and extravagant elite only served to increase the controversy around the games. Like with many other social movements and instances of contentious politics the topology of networks was important to the visibility of the LGBT rights struggle around Sochi, connecting Russian and Sochi-based activists to other LGBT activists globally, and importantly, being passed through high profile media networks from Twitter to the international news outlets. The struggle for LGBT rights was also passed through significant sporting networks, reaching far beyond the pool of athletes involved in this Winter Olympics to the delegations sent by other countries to the games, or to other sportsmen and sportswomen who chose this particular moment to be open about their own sexuality or to affirm their support of LGBT rights.

The mobility of many members of these networks was also a significant factor in their success in making LGBT rights into such a significant issue around the games, whilst attempts to curb the mobility of activists’ and other individuals’ bodies around the Sochi site was an important way in which Russian authorities attempted to resist and undermine the struggle.

Finally, Leitner and colleagues assert that socio-spatial positionality is also an important component of such politics, bringing into focus difference and inequality. In this case, the difference in Russia’s stance on LGBT rights was an important vector of difference in comparison to significant moves towards the fulfillment of LGBT rights, such as gay marriage, in much of Western Europe and North America, which had important implications for how the political struggle played out and was resisted by the Russian Government. But equally the struggle for LGBT rights around the Sochi Winter Olympics was very successful at forging alliances between different groups of activists, different national LGBT rights movements, and between activists and sports people or sports fans. That prominent news outlets also felt the need to show their support to the cause shows the strength of such alliances.

Attention to the complex spatialities of social movements and contentious politics, such as the LGBT rights struggle, can illuminate the  interactions of different tactics, arenas, allegiances and oppositions in the movement, as well as highlighting the multiple locations or levers of the political struggle ‘on the ground’.

books_icon Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard & Kristin Sziarto 2008 The spatialities of contentious politicsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33(2): 157-172

60-world2 Pussy Riot members among group of activists arrested in Sochi The Guardian, February 18

60-world2 5 reasons why Sochi’s Olympics may be the most controversial games yet The Guardian, January 31

60-world2 Channel 4 goes rainbow to wish “good luck to those out in sochi” Channel 4, February 6

60-world2 Putin cautions gay visitors to Sochi BBC News, January 17

Regulating the internet: geographies of cyberspace

By Helen Pallett

Computer_keyboard

Image credit: Gflores

From the threat of ‘cyber-bullying’ to misogynist abuse, to fears about the invasion of privacy and the accessibility of pornographic material, serious concerns have been expressed over recent weeks about the increasing incursion of the internet, and particularly social media, into our everyday lives. For many of us it is difficult to imagine conducting our social and professional lives without the daily use of sites like Twitter or Facebook, or other internet forums, but are they, as some commentators would have us believe, having negative impacts on our societies? And if so, what can be done with the humongous entity of ‘the internet’?

In response to high profile media coverage of several tragic suicides of teenagers who experienced bullying and abuse on social media and other sites, the British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of websites which failed to effectively deal with such abuse. Similarly, the social media platform Twitter has come under pressure to alter its reporting procedure for abuse after high profile female activists, writers and political figures were sent bomb and rape threats through the site. Following the discovery of child abuse images on the computers of individuals convicted of recent high profile child murders, David Cameron announced a plan to block pornographic content by default on all computers unless users asked to receive it and asked internet providers to make greater efforts to block images of child abuse.

So what can emerging geographical perspectives on ‘cyberspace’ and internet usage tell us about these challenges and the likely effectiveness of these initiatives? In a recent review article in Geography Compass, Sam Kinsley pointed out the tendency to slip into either naively utopian or bleakly dystopian meta-narratives when talking about the internet. Whilst the development of the internet undoubtedly has the potential to democratically connect and engage people just as much as it aid those seeking to terrorise and abuse, these narratives or imaginaries fall into a further trap: they tend to cast the internet as a monolithic entity. Often this singular entity is assigned moral characteristics and subject to demands for wholesale reforms. But what if the internet is not one entity at all? What if, as Kinsley suggests, there are actually multiple internets?

These internets both shape and are involved in shaping the actions of their users, and are mediated through multiple devices from spam filters to smart phones, to social media platforms and webcams. Mark Graham has also made a similar argument in a recent commentary in the Geographical Journal about the use of the metaphor of cyberspace as a monolithic imaginary of the multiple interactions which exist between people, codes, information and machineries. Thus there is not just one lived experience of the internet or even any given websites or platforms, but many, and there are multiple ways for internets to enable empowerment and abuse. This raises questions about any one government policy or attempt to promote reform of a particular website or platform can fully account for this diversity of experience or be sure to protect against potential ills.

A further development which Sam Kinsley draws attention to, is the increasing blurring between the states of ‘online’ and ‘offline’. Particularly following the sharp growth in smart phone usage in recent years it has become difficult to separate the times and spaces in which people are connected to the internet to when they are disconnected. Furthermore, activities such as socialising, entertainment, working and relaxing increasingly incorporate a complex of both online and offline elements which are hard to distentangle. This means that, for example, in the case of ‘cyberbullying’, whilst abuse may start online or be enabled by a particular website or internet platform, it may also impinge on the offline parts of an individual’s life through technologies like text messaging or through face to face contact. How then can such challenges be ameliorated through internet regulation alone?

As has been pointed out in some of the media coverage of the recent surge in favour for internet regulation (for example, see here), the problem is always more complex and multifaceted than we would like to believe and needs to be understood as situated within a broader set of societal developments and changes.

books_icon Samuel Kinsely, 2013, Beyond the Screen: Methods for Investigating Geographies of Life ‘Online’Geography Compass 540-555

books_icon Mark Graham, 2013, Geography/internet: ethereal alternate dimensions of cyberspace or grounded augmented realities?The Geographical Journal 179 177-182

60-world2 Boycott websites which don’t tackle abuse, says Cameron BBC News, 8 August 2013

60-world2 Twitter ‘report abuse’ button calls after rape threats BBC News, 27 July 2013

60-world2 David Cameron urges internet firms to block child abuse images BBC News, 21 July 2013

60-world2 Online pornography to be blocked by default, PM announces BBC News, 22 July 2013

60-world2 When politicians get the internet wrong, the internet can be ruthless The Guardian, 16 August 2013

From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges

by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

The authors: Josh Lepawsky is  Associate Professor and Charles Mather is Head of Department both at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Lepawsky J and Mather C 2011 From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste Area 43 242–249

[N.B.: This is the first open access paper published in the journal Area, which means anyone can read it for free rather than having to pay a subscription to access it]

Radio Space: North Sea Memories

The BBC's nemesis: Radio Caroline's offshore vessel, late 1960s. (c) 2011 Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

Uniquely amongst the major world powers, Britain’s international image is disproportionally defined by its broadcasting capabilities. The BBC’s announcement on 11 August to establish World Service FM stations in the Libyan rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata (91.5 Arabic and English) raised few eyebrows; observers have come to expect the World Service to install itself in any democratic-leaning region. ‘We know the people of Libya are keen listeners of BBC Arabic’, Liliane Landor, BBC controller for languages, noted, ‘The new FM stations will give the people of Benghazi and Misrata somewhere to turn to for news they can trust and know is accurate’. Similarly, within weeks of the collapse of Iraq’s totalitarian Ba’ath regime, the World Service opened FM repeater stations throughout the country. In 2005 the World Service and the British Department for International Development (DfID) established Al Mirbad Radio, serving Basra, Missan and Dhi Qar provinces. Locally produced Al Mirbad Radio rapidly became one of the most popular stations in Iraq.  The BBC continues to organise and train new Iraqi media groups, with special emphasis on women and journalistic-independence.

Historically, the BBC’s influence was the result of a government policy that remained largely unchanged until the 1970s. A state institution, the BBC was conceived to ‘speak peace unto the nation’; to be the nation’s voice, a symbol of Britain’s strength, culture and public image, both at home and abroad. A broadcasting monopoly theoretically ensured this cohesive voice.

The BBC’s ubiquitous control began to falter after the Second World War. From 1955 onward, ITV competed with BBC Television for viewers. But the radio monopoly survived until 1972, when the Sound Broadcasting Act extended the Television Act 1964 to radio. The Independent Television Authority was renamed the Independent Broadcasting Authority, charged with the registration, organisation and monitoring of commercial (non-BBC) radio stations. The debates leading to the Sound Broadcasting Act highlighted the deep extent to which the BBC had become an integral part of British domestic and international life – an inimitable British geography with distinct cultures, populations and regulations.

But what catalysed Parliament’s about-face in British broadcasting policy? Such recent examinations as the 2009 film Pirate Radio have rekindled interest in the broadcasting ‘war’ that led to the de-monopolisation of British radio and the alteration of British broadcasting geography. In ‘Sinking the Radio “Pirates”: Exploring British Strategies of Governance in the North Sea, 1964-1991’, Kimberley Peters (Royal Holloway) critically examines the vital role offshore pirate radio played in fashioning contemporary British maritime policy. As Peters points out, when the first illegal offshore pirate station (Radio Caroline) broadcast on Easter Sunday 1964, the BBC was reeling from a precipitous drop in listeners. A network that principally catered to middle-aged, middle-class audiences, the BBC was increasingly perceived as being ‘out-of-touch’ with 1960s youth culture, which demanded contemporary rock-n-roll artists. Situated on converted fishing vessels anchored beyond Britain’s three-mile nautical limit, Radio Caroline and its cohort ‘flouted British rules and laws’, but nonetheless placed intensive pressure on the BBC to establish programming geared to a new, revolutionary generation (pp. 281-83).

The Area article also critiques the apparent contradiction between Britain’s historical support for ‘freedom of the seas’ and its determination to eliminate ‘obstacles to free navigation’ which, for purposes of convenience, included the so-called “pirate” radio stations. This approach proved both awkward and questionable: Peters argues that ‘certain methods of governance that were enacted were inherently problematic, challenging therefore Britain’s long history as a protector of the high seas’ (p. 283). London’s frustrating experience in stopping the nautical broadcasts led not only to Britain’s eventual acquiescence to commercial radio, but also to policy-makers’ review of how, where and when maritime law can be applied.

  ‘Al Mirbad: Local Radio for Southern Iraq’, BBC World Service Trust, accessed 12 August 2011.

 McAthy, Rachel,  ‘World Service Launches on FM in Libyan Cities’, Journalism.co.uk, 11 August 2011, accessed 12 August 2011.

  ‘More About Our Work in Iraq’, BBC World Service Trust, accessed 12 August 2011.

  ‘Our Work in Iraq’, BBC World Service Trust, accessed 12 August 2011.

  Peters, Kimberley, ‘Sinking the Radio “Pirates”: Exploring British Strategies of Governance in the North Sea, 1964-1991’, Area 43.3 (September, 2011): 281—87.

  ‘Sound Broadcasting Act 1972’, Parliament 1972 Chapter 31 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1972), pp. 477—96.

Green Consumerism

By Caitlin Douglas

Be sustainable. The answer is pretty simple right – consume less. But is it that simple ……..

In a recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Gibson et al. (2011) discuss the interface between climate change, household consumption and sustainability.  The authors asked interesting questions such as whether the impacts of transporting items sold on EBay outweigh their re-use value, and whether eating local food actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  They also described the conundrum when choosing between two different ‘sustainable’ options, such as whether to re-use plastic supermarket bags for bin liners, or whether to shop using reusable bags and then buy bin liners.

Such debates can be tiring and confusing. What can one do? Well Naresh Ramchandani and Andy Hobsbawm may have the answer for you in the form of Green Thing:

‘Green Thing is for those of us – and there’s a lot of us – who don’t get turned on by the tree-hugging thing, the guilt thing, the scientific thing or the world-is-at-an-end thing. Green Thing is a simple thing, a fun thing, a creative thing and a community thing. It’s for anyone who wants to lead a greener life but hasn’t found a way.’ (Green Thing Website 2010)

So I encourage you to give the Green Thing a chance, its innovative approach to sustainability may be just what you are looking for.

Gibson et al. 2011.Climate change and household dynamics: beyond consumption, unbounding sustainability. Trans Inst Br Geogr 36:3-8

Green Thing Website

You expect me to talk? No Mr Bond I expect you to buy

SIS (MI6) Headquarters, London

By Alexander Leo Phillips

We were reminded today about the grim realities of life in the global intelligence community, with the discovery of a thus far unidentified body in a London flat.  Such stories have become increasingly  common place since the end of the Cold War, as many governments have opened up (relativity speaking) and comment more regularly upon matters of state intelligence.  So much so in fact, its now often forgotten that the British Government only recently publicly acknowledged the very existence of SIS. Now they even have an official website.

Before this time the complexities of international espionage were a mystery to the general public.  All we had to go on were the entertainment industries best attempts to turn this unknown world into an exciting (and often slightly camp)  two hours of fast cars, women and guns.  In such a world James Bond was never puzzled by the ill defined notion of the Britain he was fighting for, nor was he ever concerned by his carbon footprint.  As a result, many could be said to hold an overly romanticised image of this world; as something they can buy into for its ‘promises’ of thrills, excitement  and sex.

Stijn Reijnders has explored the increasing profitable world of James Bond tourism in Area’s September 2010 issue.  In it he details the journeys of 007 “pilgrims” as they visit various locations from Bond films across London and the wider world.  From a simple door way to SIS headquarters itself, these pilgrims relive their favourite Bond moments; wishing, if only for an instant, to be part of that world.  However, it seems unlikely to me that these same fans would find as much joy reflecting upon locations like Piccadilly’s Itsu sushi restaurant.

Reijnders, S. 2010. ‘On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James Bond’, Area, 42 (3). pp. 369 – 377.

Hiking into Hybrid Networks: Ten Tors Challenge

by Fiona Ferbrache

The 50th Ten Tor event took place this weekend – a two-day challenge where young people navigate their way between the infamous tors of Dartmoor National Park.  On routes of 35, 45 or 55 miles, teams of six persons carry equipment to endure the weather, cook meals, camp and complete their ten checkpoints by 1700 Sunday.  Roughly 2400 young people took part this year in this tough but incredible expedition.

Expeditions help us to “get out (there) more” to engage with geography, and lie at the heart of the Royal Geographic Society (Maddrell, 2010).  While the Ten Tor challengers are not collecting data, they are effectively ‘in the field’ and surrounded by geographies (as well as being part of this geography).  In TIBG, Maddrell suggests that ‘getting out there’ improves perceptions and knowledges of Geography.  So how might these youngsters engage with the subject?

Following Nicholls (2009), we can adopt a network approach to conceptualise Ten Tors which sees it integrated into hybrid combinations of people, technology, organisations and nature; for example, the challengers, the means of transport to bring everyone to Dartmoor on this particular weekend, the military and rescue teams organising and supporting the event, and the physical upland landscape of Dartmoor.  This specific combination of relations combines in a particular assemblage to produce Ten Tors and situate this event firmly in a geographical perspective.

Well done to all teams who took part and finished the event!

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Read about the Ten Tors on the BBC News website

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Find out about Ten Tors Challenge

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Maddrell (2010) The ‘expedition debate’ in TIBG

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Nicholls (2009) Place, networks, space: theorising the geographies of social movements, TIBG