Tag Archives: protest

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

Geographies of Occupation

Sarah Mills

Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement against corporate greed and social and economic inequality which began in September 2011, continues to grow and inspire occupations across the world.  The original occupation in New York describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”.  The claiming of space, whether St Paul’s Cathedral in London or in Madrid Square, has been central to the identity and nature of the demonstrations.   Furthermore, the role of social media and digital communications remains vital in organising and documenting the protests.  The complex geographies and demographics of the occupy movement are still unravelling and emerging, with mainstream media only recently focusing on events.

In their commentary in The Geographical Journal published online last week, Peter Hopkins, Liz Todd and Newcastle Occupation document the occupation at Newcastle University, UK that took place during November-December 2010 in response to government spending cuts and increased tuition fees.  Here, the authors discuss characteristics of the Newcastle Occupation (the claiming of space, alternative governance structure, cyberspace and social media) that are currently being played out in different contexts through this month’s global occupations.  This article gives an important insight into one example of occupation and the actions of students involved in the process and politics of protest.

 Read Hopkins, P., Todd, L. and Newcastle Occupation (2011) Occupying Newcastle University: student resistance to government spending cuts in England The Geographical Journal

 Read the latest news on the global Occupy movement via The Guardian website

 Follow the latest on Occupy Wall Street  / Occupy London / We are the 99% campaign

Hung Up: The British General Election 2010

Sarah Mills

This week’s news has been dominated by the British General Election and the (widely predicted) hung parliament.  As party leaders begin to negotiate with each other and their members, there is still great uncertainty about the next Prime Minister and the composition of the next government.  Whilst there are many talking points, the issue emerging as a key factor in any prospective coalitions is electoral reform.  In The Guardian yesterday, Polly Toynbee stressed the importance of electoral reform and the prospective coalitions on the table.  The protests in London yesterday lobbying the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the issue of electoral reform also demonstrates public concerns over how elections take place and issues of representation.  In the midst of uncertainty and change, a more everyday geography of protest and debate is taking place, for example this sign photographed in Hackney, East London.

In an article for Geography Compass, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie describe elections as a “geographer’s delight”.  Through examining British general elections over the last sixty years, they highlight the “inherent geographical activity” of elections.  Indeed, electoral geography has been a cornerstone of political geography and remains an engaging area of current research, particularly with developments in GIS and mapping.  As the story of this election continues to unfold, geographers should be well placed to contribute to discussions on the emerging events, and particularly on the geographies of electoral reform.

Read Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on the issue of electoral reform.

Read Johnston, R. & Pattie, C. (2009) Geography: The Key to Recent British Elections, Geography Compass 3 (5) pp.1865-1880