Protests as Events: Politics, Activism and Leisure

Protests as Events: Politics, Activism and Leisure

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Overview

Can activism be considered a leisure activity? Can the Occupy movement, local campaigns for change and lone acts of personal resistance be understood as events?

Within the field of Events Management the content of events is generally analyzed within three categories-culture, sport or business. Such a typology can be helpful as a heuristic for interpretation and analysis within a commercial paradigm. However, this framework overlooks and depoliticizes a significant variety of events, those more accurately construed as protest.

Protests as Events is the first book to explore activism as a leisure activity and protests as events; using a fresh interpretation of event to develop a new critical politics of events and leisure. Bringing together a range of cutting edge research from around the world, it explores a variety of protests through the lens of events studies and leisure in order to understand how the study of events management might be conceptualized in the protest space.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783480777
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 11/05/2014
Pages: 276
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ian R Lamond is a lecturer in Events Management at Leeds Metropolitan University. His research is concerned with the working practices of social movements and how such movements respond to policy change. His work has been presented at several international conferences - spanning disciplines such as political science; political communication, policy studies, critical tourism studies and critical discourse analysis

Karl Spracklen is a Professor of Leisure Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. He teaches leisure theory, popular culture; philosophy and sociology of sports science, as well as research methods and dissertation support, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, across the School. He has published widely in the area of leisure studies with works including 'Leisure, Sport and Society' (2013), 'Whiteness and Leisure' (2013), 'Constructing Leisure, Historical and Philosophical Debates' (2011) and 'Habermas and the Meaning of Leisure' (2009) all with Palgrave Macmillan.

Read an Excerpt

Protests as Events

Politics, Activism and Leisure


By Ian R. Lamond, Karl Spracklen

Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Copyright © 2015 Ian R. Lamond, Karl Spracklen and contributors
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78348-078-4


CHAPTER 1

The Construction of Contested Public Spheres

Ian R. Lamond, Cassandra Kilbride and Karl Spracklen

Discourses of Protest and Identity in a British Campaigning Organization


Jürgen Habermas' ideal of the public sphere, founded on the bourgeois revolution of the Enlightenment, the development of democratic constitutions, and the creation of a free press, assumes individuals can (and do) meet as free and equal citizens. In this account of politics and political action, free agents transcend hegemonic power to discuss and decide policy in a communicatively rational manner. In this chapter, we want to outline ways in which the public sphere is contested by different agents and powers. We are interested in how, in this late modern society, the communicative freedom of the public sphere is at risk, as Habermas himself suggests, of being wiped out by the instrumental rationality that controls transnational structures and systems. In his work on the meaning and purpose of leisure, Spracklen has suggested that spaces associated with such activities might be the last communicative remnants of the Habermasian lifeworld. That is, as global capitalism and state controls exert enormously limiting power on the spaces and forms of work and of popular culture, leisure time becomes the only time when it becomes possible to resist the hegemonies in other parts of everyday life. So, with the ideal public sphere of the lifeworld swamped by instrumentality, the only way to organize resistance and protest is through volunteering, volunteer activism, protest on the margins and counter-hegemonic spectacle. Thus, protest becomes a form of communicative leisure, the only space and practice where counter-hegemonic resistance becomes possible, and new public spheres are potentially constructed.

Instances of protest become events that present a public articulation of such potential. Following Badiou and Zizek, the protest event can thus be construed as "a change of the very frame through which we perceive the world and engage with it"; it is a reframing, a break (or rupture) with how the world is conceived. It confronts what the prevailing hegemony fabricates as the mundane by presenting us with an alternative to how it is currently shaped. The protest event opens a space of potentiality, a liminal space in which language, relationships, and the symbolic order of actions and interactions, pertinent to daily life, can be other than they currently are. It is not, simply, that such events offer us the prospect of an alternative way of orientating ourselves to the world; rather, it presents us with the possibility of completely reconstituting that symbolic order, redefining what the world is and that deep rootedness in it which constitutes our identity as part of it. By challenging the consensual frame of the dominant hegemonic worldview the protesting subject becomes defined, through participation, as contrary to the discourses of that dominant hegemony. It is through the articulation of communicative leisure that the protesting subject becomes self othered, or as Ranciere expresses it in one of his ten theses on politics, they become the "essence of politics" as the "manifestation of dissensus ... the presence of two worlds in one". It is through debates about how to protest, and how to use events as protest, that campaigning organizations, and their activist members, attempt to construct public spheres that express a coherent internal logic which advocate an alternative discourse to that of the dominant political consensus.

In our research, we are interested in what motivates activist members to identify with particular campaign organizations, what sustains them in their activism and how their activism is enacted in the wider public sphere. We are interested in how activists and workers in such organizations develop what Robert Stebbins calls a serious leisure project, in which some individuals shape careers and work without any monetary reward, while others transform their leisure hobby into a paid job. The concept of serious leisure has been applied to sports participants and musicians, but also many other volunteers who become workers, such as committee members in social clubs and social enterprises. In this chapter we are using serious leisure to map the motivations, webs of belonging, and social, moral and political discourses of political activists. In construing activism as serious leisure, protest becomes communicative leisure.

The discussion in this chapter is based on new qualitative research using anonymous semi-structured interviews with local-national activists, who are members of a well-known (but unnamed) radical, British, campaigning organization. While it could be argued that our framework of activism as serious leisure and protest as communicative leisure could be applied to any marginal political activity (such as the political activism of the far right), we believe that the nature of communicative rationality is such that it stands against ideologies that (knowingly or unknowingly) support and endorse hegemony. The activism of the far right is predicated on false ideologies of racialization, nationalism and hegemonic masculinity. Those false ideologies promote the interests, and maintain the power, of nation-states and transnational corporations, even if the far right articulates suspicions about some of the effects of that power. So communicative activism and protest has to be radical, or left, fighting the power of people and institutions that actually control things, and not fighting phantoms of history such as "foreigners" or other minority groups.

Our research has concentrated on the constructions of identity and belonging in a radical-left campaigning organization. The organization's website, selected campaign material and public discussion forums were scrutinized using a combination of critical discourse analysis and a variation of Goffman's frame analysis. Those approaches were used to ascertain the construction of the organization's "worldview", which was then compared to that drawn from a similar analysis of interview transcripts.

In this chapter, we will argue that activists use a number of strategies to articulate activist identities; protest and event are just two ways of constructing common leisure identities within the campaigning organization. We will also argue that what is at stake in protest is the articulation of contested public spheres: different and potentially incommensurable ontological spaces, in which the construction of a common ground between the organization and the dominant political hegemony may be impossible to achieve. That is, the power of the neo-liberal nation-state over the remains of the Habermasian public sphere may be so hegemonic that activists and campaigning organizations are limited to making their own spaces of activism, far removed from the "mainstream". Before we turn to our discussion, analysis and conclusions, we will discuss our theoretical framework and our methodological choices in a traditionally academic manner.


LITERATURE REVIEW

The authors carried out an initial literature audit in early 2014. The basis upon which the literature was scanned focused on three areas within the study of serious leisure and events management, these were: protest and identity, political activism and the use of public spheres for protest. It was envisaged that by compiling a review on those areas, a convergence of theory aligning the study of serious leisure and event management, within the context of political activism, would begin to emerge. To date, that topic remains a largely unexplored territory.

In 2002 Mair concluded that "there remains a need to capture this leisure form [activism] and determine in what ways leisure theory can be strengthened". Since her paper on exploring the relationship between leisure, activism and social change, in which she makes that conclusion, only a handful of other research papers have been published that address the issue. Where there are discussions of contested public spheres, discourses of protest and identity, from a serious leisure and event management perspective, event management scholars have exhibited a tendency to approach those topics from a socioeconomic perspective. Their research has focused on the social, political and economic impacts of large global events, such as the Olympics, Live Aid and Live 8, and, from a historical perspective, Woodstock, with large- and small-scale protests being almost completely overlooked.

Mair's research has addressed many concerns raised in this chapter, including identity, motivation and the reclaiming of "discursive space". On the two former issues she describes the formation of "multi-issue coalitions", or the coming together of many small activist groups to attend large-scale high-profile protests such as those that follow world trade summits, the G8 and so forth. "Activists", she argues, "generally form large multi-issue coalitions and include workers, artists, feminists, environmentalists, religious leaders, academics and many others". Drawing upon the work of others, Mair suggests that it is more accurate to "describe these events as social gatherings of concerned people who are attempting to reframe the conditions within which economic, social and political decisions are made". Continuing, she points out that these events often include a range of activities that would commonly be found at conventional festivals such as "teach-ins, art, music, drama and policy meetings".

Mair goes on to discuss, in some depth, how activism fits into the definition of serious leisure. "Serious leisure", she writes, "includes a characteristic of staying committed when confronting danger, undoubtedly an important ingredient, when differentiating serious from casual leisure", but also observes from her interviews with activists that "there are ways in which the notion of serious leisure does not completely capture the essence of what these data are indicating. First, regarding the motivations for attending these events, there is a sense of collective duty or citizenship that elicits a deeper commitment than serious leisure might suggest". She goes on to suggest that the risks involved in acts of protest and political activism are "arguably beyond the scope of serious leisure".

One further interesting point Mair makes is that "the general tone of leisure research suggests the growth of commodified forms of leisure has led mainly to self-serving and consumptive behaviour, and lends little to the building of community or the encouragement of political engagement". That concept has not gone unnoticed by other serious leisure researchers. Spracklen, Richter and Spracklen suggest that it is not just our leisure time that has become commercialized and consumptive. That commercialization has meant our towns, cities and public spaces have become ever more commodified. Using Leeds, a city in the north of England, as an example, they concluded that a consequence of local government cultural policies and city centre regeneration schemes has been to create city spaces that appeal only to the people who work in them or who go to such spaces to engage in commodified forms of leisure. While such leisure activities might encompass shopping, eating out, going to the theatre or nights out drinking, they have also actively reduced places where alternative groups would otherwise have congregated. In their case study, a key example is the decision to "transform" the city's quirky Corn Exchange, an unusual retail building full of independent and alternative shops, into a food quarter selling expensive and premium foods. Based on three distinctive and alternative subgroups, and the steady decline of alternative Leeds, the research concludes, "Successive decision makers and planners have minimized, then eliminated, alternative leisure spaces from the urban landscape, leaving alternative scenes on the margins of the city centre". They go on to say that while "there are no fences stopping any alternative people entering the city centre ... there is nothing designed to entice them in". Although they found that the left-wing activists who took part in their research refused to surrender, "most accepted that the city centre of Leeds was an alien, gentrified, and eventized space".

It could be argued that the example of one city isn't enough to prove a far-reaching trend towards gentrification. However, in her study of parks and public squares, and their comparison to online and offline protest spheres, Arora came to a similar conclusion. She states:

If we pay attention to the trajectory of urban parks across cultures and time, we see a similar and challenging trend. The transformation of park from relatively unregulated public space to currently corporatized, commercialized and semi privatized space should give us deep cause for concern. ... Malls, gated-communities and corporate plazas have created controlled diversity whereby the masses are differentiated based on their consumption patterns, creating a dissipated or a pseudo public.


In her paper, Arora historically contextualizes the creation and usage of parks and public space. Such spaces, she argues, were originally created to allow people from different classes and backgrounds to come together during leisure pursuits. The creation of spaces that appeal only to a limited subsection of society limits both their use and the interaction between those subsections, which, as Mair has pointed out, is often the makeup of activist groups. One may thus conclude that activism is adversely affected by gentrification and eventization.

Gilchrist and Ravenscroft address the contesting of public spheres in their discussion of the act of space hijacking, which they describe as a form of culture jamming. According to Gilchrist and Ravenscroft:

Space hijackers are fundamentally aware of the formidable opposition posed by the state and market which necessarily provokes antagonism and conflict alongside pre-figurations of freedom born through the projects they deploy. Their projects aim to shed light on behaviours that are discouraged in the urban public realm, for example shifts in security, privatisation and laws of urban public space that make it easier to be monitored and policed. Projects are designed to draw out the ideological intent of the architect and their complicity in designing a built environment primarily for work and consumption. Some "projects" also challenge the narrow range of permissible activities by performing non-consumptive behaviours in direct contravention to consumerist norms governing parts of the city.


Some activists have begun challenging the hijacking of public space by policy makers in a more subtle way; they have been called craftivists. So far only a handful of papers have been written on this emerging trend.

Wallace's "study of craftivism and mobility" explains "craftivism" as a term coined by Betsy Greer in 2003 to signify the merging of crafting and activism. In her words, "craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite". Combining a do-it-yourself ethic, the covert movement of street art, and needlework, craftivists bomb urban spaces and inanimate objects as a means of art and consciousness raising — sometimes political, sometimes humourous, sometimes dazzling, but always unexpected. In a similar vein, collective knit-ins juxtapose the act of knitting, which is "generally constructed as a feminine and domestic craft with its sheer out-of-placeness at protests, undermining accepted ideas of protesters as violent, and offering, what is seen, at least to knitters, as a constructive approach to activism that encourages interpersonal interaction and everyday resistance". A quick Internet search of the term craftivism will bring up many examples of activism through craft, from campaigns by big activist organizations such as wool against weapons to the Craftivist Collective, which works on a multiple range of issues.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Protests as Events by Ian R. Lamond, Karl Spracklen. Copyright © 2015 Ian R. Lamond, Karl Spracklen and contributors. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction- Ian Lamond and Karl Spracklen/ Part I Mediatisation and Media Spectacle/ 1 The construction of contested public spheres: Discourses of protest and identity in a British campaigning organisation- Ian Lamond, Cassandra Kilbride and Karl Spracklen/ 2 SlutWalk Hong Kong and the media - Angie Ng/ 3 Lights, camera, direct action: The protest spectacle as media opportunity and message sender - Jonathan Cable/ 4 Paving the way for anti-militarism in Romania: activists, events and public authorities during the 2008 NATO summit - Henry Rammelt/ Part II Identity, Embodiment and Categorization/ 5 Academic-activism(s) in urban resistances: Pioneers or obstacles for a common ground - Nezihe Basak Ergin/ 6 As Barriers Fall, contingency becomes possibility: Protest resisting and escaping containment and categorization - Christian Garland/ 7 ‘It’s a Beautiful Thing, the Destruction of Wor(l)ds’ - Aylwyn Walsh and Myrto Tsilimpounidi/ 8 The logic of movement practice: An embodiment approach to activist research - Raphael Schlembach/ Part III Events as Dissent/ 9 Sounds of Dissent: Music as Protest - Craig Robertson/ 10 Rave Culture – Free Party or Protest? - Rev. Ruth Dowson, Dan Lomax and Bernadette Theodore-Saltibus/ 11 Events of emancipation and spectacles of discontent - Nils-Christian Kumkar/ 12 Affective and spatial construction of identities in protest events - Tatiana Golova/ Conclusion – Ian Lamond and Karl Spracklen/ Notes on the Contributors/ Bibliography/ Index

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