Feb 26, 2014

Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements

One of the most useful books out about geographies of social movements is the new (2013) Spaces of Contention, edited by Walter Nicholls, Justin Beaumont, and Byron Miller.

Sadly (and a bit ironically) the book is through Ashgate, which charges truly outrageous prices.  But you can get a 50% discount with the code A14IIR50 at www.ashgate.com.  That still makes it £35.00 + post and packing. Offer valid until 31/12/2014.

Spatiality has been an important contribution geographers have offered to social movement studies, who often wrote about movements as if they happened ‘on the head of a pin’ (Nicholls 2007).  How do movements use space, how does space shape movements, and how do movements shape space? Geographers have used different spatial concepts to get at this: place, networks, and scale in particular, though also sometimes territory, city, and region. Nicholls, Mill, and Beaumont argue in their introduction that in the 30s to 50s it tended to be region, 60-70s: space, 80s: place, 90s-00s: scale, and now networks and mobility, and they offer a helpful review of how each has been taken up for movement studies.

Yet each of these concepts exist in relation to movements and to each other, which does not mean that they are endlessly entangled but that if we look at actual practices, different ones will the stronger notes in the chord in a particular conjuncture. This argument was first made by Leitner et al (2008) who have been widely cited for arguing that too often, as they call it, a favorite ‘master spatiality’ has been plopped down on a movement rather than recognizing that these spatialities are, as they put it, co-implicated (a la intersectionality). Scale and territory, for example, not only shape each other, but also, as Neil Smith put it, "the scale of struggle and the struggle over scale are two sides of the same coin" (Smith 1992,74, cited in Martin 2013, 332). Miller argues this is true for all of these spatialities, which movements work to shape, and also shape movements.  Though this will always be contextual he offers a complex grid in his concluding chapter in this book.  For a full-on geography geek out see this grid that, in relation to movements, grafts the Jessop et al framework for the relationship between territory, place, scale, and network (TPSN) on to the Lefebvrian triad of material space, conceptual space, and lived space, and points to the different socio-spatial power relations created in each (334). 

A more fluid and process oriented take on these relations is the assemblage approach.  Rutland, for example, in his chapter in this book uses actor networks to great effect in detailing how the movement for a new Portland energy policy was made possible and constituted through a concatenation of human and nonhuman elements associated across time and space. But he warns that Latour's approach ignores processes of disassociation and exclusion, and attends to minute details at cost of obscuring broad systemic conditions, like capitalism and patriarchy, under which associations are formed (2013, 255).

If you read only one chapter of this book, I recommend the conclusion by Miller, entitled Spatialities of Mobilization: Building and Breaking Relationships.

Leitner, Helga, Eric Sheppard, and Kristin M. Sziarto. 2008. “The Spatialities of Contentious Politics.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33 (2): 157–72.

Martin, Deborah G. 2013. “Place Frames: Analyzing Practice and Production of Place in Contentious Politics.” In Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements,

Nicholls, Walter J. 2007. “The Geographies of Social Movements.” Geography Compass 1 (3): 607–22.

Rutland, Ted. 2013. “Energizing Environmental Concern in Portland.” In Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements
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