Spaces of Protest

The Media Fields journal recently published the latest issue on “Spaces of Protest“. It includes papers on drone vision and zones of protest (Anthony McCosker), the Gezi-movement – with regards to the “politics of being-there” (Sinem Aydinli) and “intertopian space” (Çağrı Yalkın and Suncem Koçer) – and urban art as playful protest (Sam Hind).

Together with Pablo Abend, I contributed a paper on the role of (field) researchers during and after the Occupy protests. When writing the paper back in 2013, we were wondering:

[H]ow academic attention and the resulting analyses may have influenced and constituted the movement; what are the implications for a political movement when it is analysed and academically assessed already during its unfolding? In what ways may the prompt narratives of its development, history, and potential failure have affected the Occupy movement? We are aware that such questions are difficult to assess, and we do not suggest to provide a definite answer regarding this issue. However, we propose this paper as an initiation of a discussion concerned with encounters and relations between activists and academics in contemporary protest movements.

In order to elaborate on the interaction between academic and activist practices related to the Occupy protests, we will firstly discuss how academic interests and involvement have facilitated the protests: what kind of discursive agency and representation have academics “transferred” to the movement? The flipside of this question is how academic interests—such as the need to generate material and to publish books and papers—may have interfered with its development.

More importantly, we raise the question of which methodological implications the spaces of Occupy raise for research on site. While Occupy attracted the interest of many academics, it seems characteristic of the movement that the actors were active in generating emic (self-reflexive) theories regarding their own practices and were very strategic in the ways they constructed the respective spaces. Therefore, we intend to draw attention to the “artificiality” of the protest spaces, which seem related to the reflexivity and strategic construction of the activist actors themselves.

In order to describe the interactions between academic and activist reflections and involvement, we suggest looking at the spaces of protest not as “fields of research,” but as “socio-political laboratories” which have produced experimental aesthetics and political as well as artistic practices.

If you are interested in these issues, read the full article on the Media Fields website.

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