It’s been a busy few months for the Ludic Geopolitics project team. Earlier this month we convened a double session on the theme of Domesticating Geopolitics at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers’ Annual International Conference.
“From the outset, critical geopolitics has emphasised approaches that question spatial distinctions between foreign/domestic politics and political distinctions between formal/popular geopolitics. More recently, feminist contributions to critical geopolitical debates have re-articulated the necessity of including the ‘everyday’ and the ‘ordinary’ into our accounts of the geopolitical, in part to work towards the dissolution of clear-cut distinctions between public and private, and towards the increasing realisation that different scales are not separate but intertwined.
This session then will focus both on what Pain & Staeheli (2014) describe as ‘the intimate outwards’ as well as ‘the geopolitical inwards’. We therefore take ‘domesticating geopolitics’ to capture a broad range of practices, objects, performativities and discourses that contribute to how geopolitics is rendered familiar and sanitised, and the ways in which the home and bodies become a terrain of the geopolitical. Bodies, personal decisions, religious beliefs and feelings thus become sites for reproduction and contestation of geopolitical imaginaries and possibilities. They ‘are territory but also make territory’ as intimacy becomes a ‘site of geopolitical practices’ (Smith 2012, 2009). This session seeks then to explore the potential of notions of domesticating and the intimate for expanding our understanding of the geopolitical.”
The conference provided a welcome return to the University of Exeter where plans for our Ludic Geopolitic project were initial hatched. The session included nine papers addressing a range of topics from Scottish Nationalism to Space Shuttle Mission Patches:
Playing war: the action figure’s role in the domestic co-constitution of geopolitical cultures
The important role of play and toys to warfare – as tools for recruitment and training, test beds for defence industry innovations, and strategies for legitimating and sustaining geopolitical logics – has been noted, but is yet to receive sustained investigation. This is due, in large part, to play being frequently overlooked as an irrelevant aspect of people’s social worlds. Yet it is precisely play’s banal and taken-for-granted nature that enables domestication and sanitisation of military technologies and logics, and allows its role in popular imaginaries to go unchallenged. This paper examines how geopolitical cultures are (re)configured in and through the space of the home through attention to children’s play with military action figures. It approaches these toys not just as ideological texts carrying messages to be read, but as objects in embodied practices of meaning-making. It is argued that play and toys do not merely respond to geopolitical climates and cultures, but are co-constitutive of them.
Securing Disunion: Nationalism, identity and (in)security in the campaign for an independent Scotland
This paper explores experiences of (in)security among young ethnic and religious minorities in Scotland, in the context of the campaign for Scottish independence in 2014. Drawing on focus groups and interview data from over 300 ethnic and religious minority young people in Scotland collected over the 12 month campaign period, we discuss how young people negotiate, disrupt and/or co-construct narratives of Scottish nationalism and citizenship alongside minority ethnic and faith identities in order to feel secure. We use Kinvall’s (2004; 2006) concept of ‘securitized subjectivity’ to discuss the relationship/interaction between geopolitical discourse and the ontological (in)security (Giddens, 1991) of young people living through a moment of political potentiality. We discuss three facets of ontological (in)security experienced by ethnic and religious minority youth in Scotland: trust; fear; and (dis)continuity. In particular, we interrogate how everyday encounters of difference reflect broader geopolitical narratives of security and insecurity, which subsequently trouble notions of ‘multicultural nationalism’ in Scotland impacting on claims to citizenship. The paper contributes to a growing body of work on psychoanalytic geographies (Bondi, 2014; Kingsbury and Pile, 2014) and encourages further analysis of the nexus between security and emotional subjectivity in critical geopolitics (Pain, 2009; Shaw et al., 2014).
Ephemera(l) geopolitics: the material cultures of British military recruitment
Contemporary military recruitment is inherently materially profuse, tied to haptic sense-making with various weaponised objects (deactivated rifles, mock ordnance, weighted flak jackets) at promotional events, and to the acquisition of a range of objects (pens, stickers, lanyards and other branded ephemera). Speaking to examples, this paper attempts to place such encounters and objects more centrally in an account of everyday militarism, arguing that fleeting encounters with things are central to how the militarised might be considered geopolitical. In doing so, it offers thoughts on the domestication of geopolitics as a host of things find their way onto and around bodies, and from spectacular events, such as military airshows, home again.
Paying homage to the “Heavenly Mother”: intimate geopolitics of the Mazu Pilgrimage in the midst of rapprochement between China and Taiwan
The cultural proximity of people from Fujian province in China and those in Taiwan means that religion is a common social denominator. Their belief in Mazu or Tien-shang Sheng-mu (the Heavenly Mother) is a case in point. Since the establishment of informal contacts in 1987, Taiwanese pilgrims travelling to discover their religious roots in China became the most visible and largest groups of visitors. This paper conceptualises the Mazu pilgrimage as a platform to further our understanding of everyday geopolitics and how religion plays a part in the rapprochement between China and Taiwan. In particular, it discusses the cultural-geo-politics of the Mazu Pilgrimage from a variety of different scales, ranging from the state, to temple organisations and the personal. Empirical evidence reveals that these scales do not operate independently but are highly intertwined. Furthermore, as Holloway (2006:182) argues, the geography of religion has hitherto focused mainly on the “construction and effects of religious-spiritual space” rather than on the production of such spaces. In other words, it is often assumed that spiritual spaces were there before the pilgrimage rather than spiritual spaces being performed through the pilgrimage. As such, the Mazu pilgrimage tour is conceptualised not as a tourism product, but as something that produces platforms for devotees with different political allegiance to interact with each other. In doing so, the pilgrimage tour is both a social activity and a socialising one, representing a potential force in creating new forms of geopolitical imaginaries and possibilities between the Chinese and Taiwanese.
The everyday geopolitics of Space Shuttle mission patches
In the last ten years geographers have started to engage with conceptual and empirical research on geographies of Outer Space (see: MacDonald, 2007; Sage, 2008, 2009; Dunnett, 2012; Sage, 2014). In this paper, I look to Outer Space as a site where ‘everyday’ geographies of astronauts have become entwined into the geopolitical narratives of manned spaceflight. To do this, I turn to the mission patches of the United States’ Space Shuttle programme (1981-2011), and their capacity to reflect and reify the national imaginations of the geopolitical epochs in which they were produced. I identify three epochs of geopolitical time that the Space Shuttle programme operated under: the age of competition (1981-1991), the age of cooperation (1991-1999), and the age of internationalism (1999-2011). The iconography of the patches encoded geopolitical rhetoric for the time, and so served to reproduce and reify those very discourses that ushered their construction. Most notably, I draw on auto-ethnographic accounts of the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit of Kennedy Space Center, and conclude that the mission patches, now consumed as objects of collection and tourism through their reproduction, have become banal reminders of geopolitical conflict, cooperation and internationalism in Outer Space.
Soldiers’ bodies, authority and the militarisation of everyday life
This paper discusses the figure of the wounded soldier as it is made visible through everyday practices and representations. In particular, I consider how the bodies of wounded and dead soldiers have become key technologies for the production of authority and attachment to nation, fostering powerful affective responses that work to amplify and enliven particular forms of neoliberal militarised nationhood. In thinking about the work that these figures do, I ask, how do these bodies “grip” us? What forces enable attachments, trust and devotion to coalesce and cohere around them? Drawing on Butler’s assertion that we are all conscripted into war through its framings, I draw on examples from spaces of militarisation of everyday life in order to consider how the bodies of wounded and dead soldiers make themselves known and felt, through both banal practices such as reading a newspaper on a commute, and the exceptional spaces of the repatriation parade or the charity sports event.
Through these technologies and practices of memorialisation, care and identification in relation to these bodies, the foundations of a specific articulation of national belonging are legitimated and given weight through the affective work that they do, fostering certain forms of attachment and forms of collective life. It is the assertion of this paper that these attachments and collective sensibilities can be understood in terms of a desire for foundations and the emergence of new relations of authority in the context of rapid hyperincarceration and precaritisation of life in the United Kingdom.
Violence, The Body and the Spaces of Intimate Terrorism
As Rachel Pain and others have acknowledged, there have been relatively few attempts by academics to uncover the spatialities of domestic violence beyond the mapping of support services. Reference to domestic violence as a form of intimate terrorism provides an important conceptual framework for foregrounding issues of space and scale, particularly through the exploration of spaces of entrapment. In this paper I argue that as intimate terrorism domestic violence needs to be examined at the scale of the individual body and as such better understood in terms of the form and nature of control. Drawing on recent research I look at ways in which the body is contained and controlled both physically and emotionally through intimate terrorism. I suggest that violence is strongly linked to the physical presentation of the body, to the appearance of the victim/survivor and to the control of their sexuality. Changes to the body (particularly those linked to weight gain/loss and pregnancy) make women in particular more vulnerable to domestic violence and increase desire for the body to be controlled. Strategies for control by the perpetrator include numerous ways of containing and trapping the body and rendering the victim powerless. Frequently family, friends and other community members are recruited into the process of entrapment and (unknowlingly) support efforts to control the victim. Responses to domestic violence by service providers and professionals and by victims themselves also reflect the need to control the body – vulnerable bodies are described as chaotic and out of control. Reference is also made to the idea of violence as addictive, craved by the undisciplined body.
Performing diplomatic decorum: mimicry from the margins
A key element of diplomacy is performative: looking and acting the part and developing a lobby narrative. Reflecting this has been a productive ‘practice turn’ in the field of diplomatic studies in recent years where attention has increasingly focused on the everyday routines, activities and performances of diplomats. Yet this scholarship has, to date, focused almost exclusively on ‘official’ diplomats from recognised sovereign states or international organisations. This paper instead turns attention to diplomats from de facto states, governments-in-exile and minority communities who seek to represent their communities through official diplomatic channels on the world stage, but who are legally unrecognised and thus face significant challenges to ensuring that their voices are heard. Drawing on qualitative research with a range of diplomats from unrecognised polities this paper explores the everyday strategies by which these individuals seek to perform in the diplomacy ‘game’ and ‘pass’ as bona fide diplomats: their bodily comportment, mores, modes of address, attire and adoption of conventions of diplomatic decorum. The paper uses Bhabha’s notion of mimicry to examine how these embodied performances and practices trouble the boundaries between formal/informal and official/unofficial diplomacy and highlights the important intertwined relationship between diplomacy and political activism.
Orienteering inside ‘The Idea of North’: aesthetic escape routes and Spivakian speech acts
The artist, Shona Illingworth’s, film ‘Balnakeil’ uses an aesthesis of sound to (de)scribe an adolescent intimacy with Cold War and contemporary ‘peace-time’ living on the north-western fringe of the British mainland. Domestic fears of a Cold War nuclear event transmute with live bombing practices today. Temporal specificity is indistinct while space is emplaced but becoming. This artistic installation is shaped by a tracing of the ways in which trauma is a sense event that is in effect, non-representational (Bennet 2012: 41). Since 1933 The Cape Wrath Training Centre has served as a multi-services Training Centre for terrestrial, sea-based and airborne military exercises for British and NATO forces. The training here seeks to internalise an embodied kind of Afghanistan or Iraq, through an intense physical and mental encounter with Cape Wrath. My work elucidates some of the ways in which, in the vicinity of the Cape Wrath Bombardment Range, war is hidden but heard and ‘home’ is only sometimes a synonym for ‘safe’. This is an example of how intimacy is already woven into the military praxis of geopolitics and how dwellers in places thus positioned have a distinctive topology of threat which is inevitably international and domestic.
Watch this space for a review of the session!