Tag Archives: Political Geography

Boundaries, Borders, and… The Trump Wall?

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

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The towns of Nogales, Arizona, left, and Nogales, Mexico, stand separated by a high concrete and steel fence. Image Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde.

We have all heard it: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively – I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”  Trump’s words from 2015 are once again making headlines and the proposed wall is forcing society to pose some tough questions.  Are walls a knee-jerk protectionist response?  How is globalisation implicated?  Do walls work?

The Great Wall of China, the Western Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, and several more – there is a certain degree of romanticism invoked that somehow makes us believe that protectionist ‘walls’ are from a bygone era.  Nevertheless, it is certainly not difficult for many of us to remember the celebratory tone when East Germans reunited with West Germans as the Berlin Wall was joyously torn down.  Perhaps it is this nostalgia that makes so many reel in repulsion as they ponder Trump’s USA-Mexico border wall?

Romanticism and nostalgia aside, walls are not archaic.  Walls have actually become rather trendy.  Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced new walls in 2015 (Jones, 2016).  Additionally, in 2016, Norway and Pakistan announced plans to fence off Russia and Afghanistan respectively (Jones, 2016).  In fact, there were 15 documented walls in the world in 1989; there were 70 in 2015 (Vallet, 2016).

But do they work? Certainly, walls and fences can serve a purpose: When refugees flood Europe, fences can provide temporary relief to host nations; when warring factions enter peace talks, fences can cordon off cease-fire zones.  In these cases, and others, fences are temporary and justifiable.  In other cases, walls can antagonize relations, stifle trade, and increase disruption along borders.  For example: the UN has declared that Israel’s construction of the West Bank Wall has illegally fuelled tensions with Palestine; a 717 percent increase in illegal arrivals was reported in Bulgaria despite Bulgaria-Turkey border fencing; Calais refugees are desperately jumping lorries in attempts to illegally enter the United Kingdom (Danish Refugee Council, 2016; United Nations, 2016).

Meanwhile, heavily-guarded walls and fencing have been successful in stopping movement between the USA and Mexico (as observed in the 1990s when the USA reinforced border security near San Diego and El Paso).  Many, however, would argue that these reinforcements have not stopped flow; rather, they have shifted flows, increased migrant deaths, and expanded tunnel systems (Cornelius, 2001; Meissner et al., 2013).  In this case, a border wall has, perhaps, managed perceptions more than migration.  In other words, barriers can stem the flow, but desperate people are persistent and resourceful; they will find other means.  The colloquial elephant in the room remains – as long as vast inequality exists in society, there will inevitably be a flow of people.  Until these bigger societal problems are addressed, migration and immigration will occur.

Once upon a time, it seemed that globalisation might spur somewhat of a border-less, wall-less world.  With the reality of Brexit and President Trump, however, we can expect more, not fewer, protectionist policies.  Notions of territorial organisation are becoming more and more relevant as 2017 unfolds.  While migration and trade highlight interdependence, borders still play a significant role in shaping societies and economies (Diener & Hagen, 2009).  History can not tell us to build up or tear down a wall, but history can teach us some valuable lessons.  In the meantime, the legacy of an impending USA-Mexico Wall remains to be seen – the world is waiting with bated breath.

References

books_icon Cornelius, W. (2001). Death at the border: Efficacy and unintended consequences of US immigration control policy. Population and Development Review, 27: 661–685. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00661.x

60-world2 Danish Refugee Council. (2016). Tightening borders, dangerous journeys, and shifting routes to Europe: Summary of regional migration trends, Middle East. Retrieved from: https://drc.dk/media/2885691/drc-middle-east-regional-migration-trends-august-september.pdf

books_icon Diener, A. C., Hagen, J. (2009). Theorizing borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, territory and identity. Geography Compass, 3: 1196–1216. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00230.x

60-world2 Meissner, D., Kerwin, D., Chishti, M., & Bergeron, C. (2013). Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. Retrieved from Migration Policy Institute: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigration-enforcement-united-states-rise-formidable-machinery

60-world2 United Nations. (2014). Ban says Israel’s construction of West Bank wall violates international law, fuels Mid-East tensions. Retrieved from UN News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48236#.WIu0ihiZMhu

books_icon Vallet, E. (Ed.). (2014). Borders, fences and walls: State of insecurity? Border Regions Series. Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing

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

 

 

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

 

Geographies of higher education: activism, philanthropy and marketisation

By Natalie Tebbett, Loughborough University

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Cecil Rhodes Building. Image Credit: Flickr user Jonathan/Flickr.com

Over the last month, many English newspapers have reported on the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign (see also Shaw) – a protest movement petitioning for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the frontage of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Campaigners for the removal of the statue argue that its continued presence ‘is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism’ (Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University 2016). The original Rhodes Must Fall protest movement, which began 9 March 2015 at the University of Cape Town, describes itself as ‘a collective movement of students and staff members mobilising for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town’ (Rhodes Must Fall n.d).

At the University of Oxford, protesters have said ‘that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university – which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University’s attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of the empire’ (Petitioning Oriel College, the University of Oxford 2016). Despite the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign, The Guardian reported this week that the statue is to remain after the governing body of Oriel College was warned that a proposed gift of £100m may be cancelled, with other expected donations also thought to be in jeopardy. In a statement, Oriel College said that it ‘does not share Cecil Rhodes’s values or condone his racist views or actions’ (Oriel College 2015).

The protest movement, though not successful in getting the statue removed, has raised concerns about black and minority ethnic ‘representation and experience’ of academics and students, which the University and Oriel College agree must improve. The number of recent news stories discussing the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign highlights the complex geographies of the university as a space for free speech and activism, but also an oppressive environment that can incite institutional racism. The impact and strategic culture of philanthropic donations to higher education institutions is also explored (see Warren et al. 2014).

Two articles in Area reflect the increasing interest in the geographies of the university and higher education. In Sam Halvorsen’s paper, he discusses his own experience with Occupy London and the impact this had on his classroom teaching. For example, Halvorsen brought his ‘activism into the university by teaching and presenting seminars to students and staff…, gathering support in the process’ (p. 467). Sarah Hall (2015) also examines the geographies of higher education but from an economic geography perspective, with specific focus on the ‘spatiality of marketisation through the…introduction of undergraduate student fees’ (p. 451). Hall’s paper also contributes to wider debates in geography about the internationalisation of higher education. Both articles highlight the complex interplay of economic, political and social processes operating at institutional and much broader higher education scales.

The Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign gives an important insight into some of the geographies of higher education spaces; for example: free speech, activism, institutional racism and black and minority ethnic under-representation. These debates, especially those that address race equality and diversity, will continue to unfold and be discussed particularly with the development of a higher education Race Equality Charter.

References

books_icon Hall, S. (2015) Geographies of marketisation in English higher education: territorial and relational markets and the case of undergraduate student fees. Area, 47(4), 451-458 (free to access).

books_icon Halvorsen, S. (2015) Militant research against-and-beyond itself: critical perspectives from the university and Occupy London. Area, 47(4), 466-472 (open access).

60-world2 Oriel College (2015) Statement by Oriel College about the issues raised by the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford petition. Available at: http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/content/statement-oriel-college-about-issues-raised-rhodes-must-fall-oxford-petition [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University (2016) Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University web-site. Available at: https://www.change.org/p/oriel-college-oxford-university-oriel-college-oxford-university-remove-the-cecil-rhodes-statue [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Rawlinson, K. (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’. The Guardian 29 January 2016. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/28/cecil-rhodes-statue-will-not-be-removed–oxford-university [Access date 2 Feb 2016].

60-world2 Rhods Must Fall (2016) Rhods Must Fall. Available at: http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/ [Access date 02 February 2016].

books_icon Warren, A. P., Hoyler, M., and Bell, M. (2014) Strategic cultures of philanthropy: English universities and the changing geographies of giving. Geoforum, 55, 133-142

Colonial Memories Re-Ignited: In Producing the Streets and Rhodes, One Stone Remains Unturned

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Oriel College bird’s eye view from University church. Image Credit: Arnaud Malon

Every day people walking past Oriel College on High Street in Oxford are confronted with a statue of Cecil Rhodes; a man heavily involved in the creation of enforced racial segregation in South Africa. As part of a global protest movement called ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, which began in South Africa in March 2015, a group of students at Oxford University have mobilised, calling for the statue to be removed. Toppling the stone Rhodes, they feel, would indicate that the seeds of progress are being sown in a battle against continuing racial inequality at Oxford university (The Guardian, 2015). However, despite this cause, on 29th January 2016 it was announced by Oxford University that the statue shall remain (The Guardian, 2016).

Benwell (2016), in his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, turned his attention on how everyday memories form geopolitical subjectivity. His specific empirical case was young people living on the Falkland Islands, and their engagement with memories etched into the social and physical landscape. Using this discourse when looking at Oriel college, one is able to ponder the presence of the Cecil Rhodes statue and consider how it plays a continually evolving role in the geopolitical memories of those who encounter it.

The statue in Oriel College is not new; it was erected with the construction of the Rhodes Building in 1911 from funds left to the college by Cecil Rhodes himself. Therefore we can assume that in the past the statue was probably missed or completely ignored by the majority of people who passed it – indeed no one is claiming that until last year all people walking along High Street silently condoned the statue’s existence. However the success of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, bringing the issues of an ongoing racist colonial history to international consciousness, has meant that the presence of the statue has been elevated. This elevation has enabled the revival of memories of a horrific colonial past to be found; engaging new geopolitical subjectivities. But now that the University has made its decision to keep the statue, what does this mean for the Rhodes Must Fall movement?

Arguing about whether it was right or wrong for the University to keep the statue will not help develop this narrative. Instead we should consider; what is revealed by the decision of the University to keep it? Lefebvre (1991) indicated in his work The Production of Space that all spaces are always actively produced by those who either perceive, conceive, or live the space. Here we have, on one side, a University controlling the space through its decision to keep the statue – creating the representation of space – and on the other side a movement of students who are occupying this space on High Street – making it representational space. The inability of the Rhodes Must Fall movement to remove the statue, indicates that despite appearing in the space they are fundamentally alienated from the construction of this space. Those controlling the space on the other hand, are able to impose upon these users their own representations of the space. Lefebvre warns that such impositions, by the controlling force of the University, will make “permanent transgression inevitable” (Lefebvre, 1991: 23) if the lived enactment of the space continues to be occupied by those alienated from its control.

The question is therefore; what future transgressions will we witness in the ongoing narrative of this statue? And importantly, will these transgressions establish a spatial legacy for the Rhodes Must Fall movement? A legacy memorialised with a permanence equivalent to a statue maybe? Removing the statue was never seen as an end to the discussion by any side in the debate. The story of this space is not finished.

References

books_icon Benwell, M. C., (2016) Encountering geopolitical pasts in the present: young people’s everyday engagements with memory in the Falkland Islands, Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12109

books_icon Lefebvre, H., (1991) The Production of Space, London: Wiley-Blackwell

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Oxford students step up campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statue, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

60-world2 The Guardian (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’, Online Article (Accessed on 2nd February 2016)

 

 

Arsonists, Booing, and Blaming the Weather: Diversity and Revealing Everyday Behaviour

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore

A sign for Gek Poh Ville in Yunnan, Jurong West, Singapore: Photo Credit: Allkayloh.

The Independent recently published a story about a Christmas Eve arson attack on a hotel for asylum seekers in the German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. The author implies that this attack highlights how the positive attitude of the German government to the ‘refugee crisis’, does not necessarily reflect the everyday reality of intolerance in many German suburbs. This violent legacy adds fuel to the continuing academic engagement with diverse communities and everyday multiculturalism.

Ye (2015) expands on such a discussion in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Turning her attention to the Jurong West neighbourhood of Singapore Ye explores “how everyday encounters in public reproduce spatialised principles of coexisting with diversity.” (Ye, 2015: 94). Ye focusses her engagement to the notion of ‘gui ju’, a kind of social code familiar to established citizens of Singapore. This code, Ye explains, is a behavioural and attitudinal norm promoted in part by state infrastructure and reinforced through everyday action (and inaction) in public spaces.

By turning to everyday interactions between people appropriating public spaces in Jurong West, Ye has created a narrative of the ‘gui ju’ social code in action. She uses extracts from interviews and her own observations to understand different behaviours of individuals familiar with the code – such as people’s silence when they are on public transport or their decorum when playing cards in the street. Uncovering such unwritten norms she is able to add clarity to the “messiness inherent in shared spaces” (ibid.: 91).

Furthermore, Ye elaborates how it is through adherence to ‘gui ju’ that locals in Jurong West can identify insiders and outsiders to the community. She explains that in Singapore, where a legacy of diverse ethnic communities are the norm, tropes like ethnicity or nationality cannot be used to define belonging. As such behaviours and attitudes in everyday interactions can be used instead to identify belonging.

However, to add complexity to her narrative Ye also states that “There are constant tensions, struggles and disquiet over how things ought to be in [public] spaces.” (ibid.: 96). In other words, the unwritten code of conduct applying to everyday life are not fixed, but are contingent and malleable: belonging requires active living in these spaces.

This compelling notion of a “social organising principle that prescribes proper codes of conduct” in public spaces (ibid.: 92), could also be applied to the UK. A quick glance at the national media following the start of the New Year can provide us with some examples. The Guardian has an article about the cultural valence of ‘booing’ in the UK during live performances of art and sport. Similarly The Telegraph discusses difficulties for British people returning to work after the winter break, including the author stating that she will “do what we Brits always do in times of low-level despond: blame the weather”. Additionally both The Guardian and The Independent imply a range of acceptable responses to the ‘artistic’ New Years Eve photograph of drunken and disorderly behaviour in Manchester. These examples highlight a complex and contradictory ‘gui ju’ of British everyday attitudes and behaviour; to boo or not, to condone or to condemn drunken disorder, and when in doubt: refer to the weather.

However, I feel it is necessary to exercise caution with Ye’s thoughts on social codes of conduct. While there may be some dominant codes and norms, such as ‘gui ju’, this does not negate the existence of multiple behavioural codes that remain hidden to each and every one of us. These can include behavioural and attitudinal codes associated with class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and all other tropes of identity. Maybe to help find these hidden codes we should adopt the approach of Mr Arnold, an inhabitant of the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd: we should invite outsiders into our private lives – the “Gmünder Weg” (The Independent). This could enable both insider and outsider to learn their different social codes, and mould them into new shared codes.

References

Ye, J., (2015) Spatialising the politics of coexistence: gui ju (规 矩) in Singapore, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 91–103 doi: 10.1111/tran.12107

The Independent (2016) “Refugees in Germany: Arsonists destroy refugee hotel in ‘model’ migrant town Schwabisch Gmund” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Independent (2016) “The story behind the Manchester New Year’s Eve photograph likened to a Renaissance painting” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “I used to think booing was healthy. Now it’s out of control” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Telegraph (2016) “The January blues are bad enough without giving up booze too” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

The Guardian (2016) “’Like a beautiful painting’: image of New Year’s mayhem in Manchester goes viral” Online Article (Accessed on 4th January 2016)

Pre-emptive Response: Controlling the Exceptional in the Interval Between the Capitalist Working Weeks

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Belgian Police

Belgian Police. Photo Credit: Eddy Van 3000

In his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ben Anderson explores how emergencies are governed through a logic of response and a politics of delay (Anderson, 2015). Focussing on the inquest into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Anderson shows how governing an exceptional event utilises response to ensure that sovereign power is maintained, and that a normality of capitalist life is re-established. Furthermore Anderson highlights the inquest’s final recommendations which focussed on ‘delays’ in future emergencies; delays in communication between agencies, and delays in declaring a major incident.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have witnessed a logic of response in the immediate actions of the French authorities, the subsequent raids on properties around the capital, and the declaration of a 3-month ‘state of emergency’ by the government. However, it is not this specific response that I will make brief comment on. Instead it is the ‘non-event’ a week later on Saturday 21st November in Brussels, and the pre-emptive response (a necessary contradiction) of the Belgian state to an immanent emergency.

After the tragedy in Paris a week earlier, the Belgian government claimed to be in possession of intelligence that suggested that a major incident was immanent in their capital, Brussels. An emergency response was initiated; “public transport restricted, shops shut, shopping malls shuttered, professional football cancelled, concerts called off and music venues, museums, and galleries closed”, and “People were told to avoid rail stations and airports, shopping centres, concerts, and other public events where people congregate” (The Guardian). In addition, military personal were deployed onto the streets, fully clad in camouflage and balaclavas, carrying fully-automatic weapons. However the major difference of this logic of response was that is was not a response. Nothing had happened, or did happen that day.

What this ‘pre-emptive response’ shows, in agreement with Anderson, is that the logic of response employed by liberal governments requires a focus on reducing delays in gaining control under exceptional conditions. As such, the case in Belgium this weekend exemplifies this; the delay is reduced to such an extent that it is pre-emptive.

Anderson indicates however that there is a “twofold political status” in the focus on delay; firstly it “reflects anxiety about the fragility of government” and secondly it reinforces the belief that any emergency can be exited (Anderson, 2015: 11). By having armed soldiers on the street, and the Mayor advising all cafes and restaurants to be closed by 6pm (The Independent) the suggestion of an anxious government is verified. Additionally a delay, between normality and ‘returning to normality’, rapidly becomes the focus for believing whether an emergency can be exited or not. Indeed the Wall Street Journal commented that in Brussels the “big test will be whether the metro system starts running again Monday morning, when many of the capital’s more than one million inhabitants depend on public transport to get to work” (Wall Street Journal).

While the pre-emptive response to an immanent emergency serves to ‘de-exceptionalise’ future emergencies – through a display of logistical control with exceptional measures – such measures must be limited and exited in time to restore normal capitalist flows, i.e. when businesses start trading again. The problem is, what if the immanent threat persists? How long until the delay in returning-to-normal undermines the fragility of liberal governmentality?

References

books_icon Anderson, B., (2015) Governing emergency response: the politics of delay and the logic of response, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12100

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Brussels ‘very dangerous’ as several terror suspects remain at large, Online Article  (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Paris Attack Suspect Salah Abdeslam could be in Brussels ‘ready to blow himself up’, says friend, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 Wall Street Journal (2015) Brussels Remains on Lockdown Amid Terror-Attack Fears, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)