Responsible Activist Geographies
First, the motivation of activist geographies is to develop practices aimed at social transformation rather than merely the 'production of knowledge' and/or the 'solving' of 'local' problems. Activist research moves beyond the acquisition, cataloging, ordering, and the publishing of information toward jointly producing knowledge with resisting others to produce critical interpretations and readings of the world which are accessible, understandable to all those involved, and actionable, as Paul Chatterton et al. argue.
Second, activist geographies nurture a politics of affinity with others. The connections and solidarities forged with resisting others is a key part of activist research, implying a common identification of problems and desires among groups or individuals committed to social change, as well as a desire to work together to confront and reverse a set of issues which have a common effect on all the people concerned. Practically, affinity consists of a group of people who share common ground (friends, lovers, shared beliefs and dreams, etc.), and who can provide supportive, sympathetic spaces for its members to articulate, listen to one another, share concerns, emotions, hopes, and fears. The politics of affinity enables people to provide support and solidarity for one another. Ideally, such a politics of research should be built on consensual decision making, which is nonhierarchical and participatory, embodying flexible and fluid modes of action. The common values and beliefs articulated within the politics of affinity constitute a 'structure of feeling' resting upon collective experiences and interpretations, which are cooperative rather than competitive, all predicated upon taking political action. The idea of consensus here is based upon the notion of mutual solidarity, constructing the grievances and aspirations of geographically and culturally different people as always interlinked – a key claim of Thomas Olesen's work on 'international Zapatismo' in 2005. Mutual solidarity enables connections to be drawn that extend beyond the local and particular, by recognizing and respecting dif ferences between people, while at the same time recognizing similarities (e.g., in people's aspirations). It is also about imagining global subjectivities through similarities of experience, recognizing the shared opportunities, and techniques of struggle. Putting mutual solidarity into practice means co producing contextually relevant knowledges which are useful and accessible to groups in their struggles, perhaps taking the form of pamphlets, guides, and websites, which may be more readily used and understood by the general public.
Third, activist geographers must be attentive to, and negotiate, problematic power relations that exist between (research) collaborators. It is crucial to theorize and negotiate both the differences in power between collaborators and the connections forged through such collaboration, and it is important to note that these differences in power are almost always diverse and entangled. Collaborations between activist geographers and others are neither relationships of difference articulated through an objectifying distance, nor relationships of sameness based upon entirely commensurate backgrounds, interests, and ambitions, since ''situating knowledge through [hypothetical] transparent reflexivity gives no space to understanding across difference'' (Rose, 1997: 313). Rather than 'map' distance and difference between distinctly separate agents, activist geographers ask how difference – for instance, regarding power relations – is constituted, tracing its destabilizing emergence during the research process itself. Indeed, the activist, researcher, and 'public' are all essentialisms which obscure common agendas and links which could emerge between collaborators and negates more hybrid senses of self. What Henry Giroux called 'border pedagogy' in 1992 eschews fixed notions of 'us' and 'them', recognizing the many ruptures between groups, and embracing and questioning differences and newness.
Negotiating power relations means working with groups to uncover structures of power to empower people to take control of their own lives. The pedagogical project of the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, developed in the 1970s, has insisted on the dialectical relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is only through this dialectical relationship that we can unpack relationships and causalities which structure injustice. Through this we can acknowledge that there is oppression and inequality, not merely external oppression of the 'other', but that 'we' too are subject to oppression and in turn subject others to it, thereby reproducing it. The double movement here requires both recognizing our own role in perpetuating inequality and injustices and larger examples of systematic oppression, as also argued, albeit from the differing coordinates of liberatory and post structurally inflected Christian theology, by Paul Cloke in his diagnosis for ''living ethically and acting politically in human geography.'' However, in the collaborative politics of affinity, power accrues to different people at different times, depending on the context. Activist academics are frequently in a position of power by virtue of their ability to name the categories, control information about the research agenda, define interventions, and indeed to 'come and go' as so called research scientists. Yet, because power circulates, in difference and in unity, in relations of empowerment and disempowerment, there are still certain 'powers' that accrue to research subjects within the research process, ones that might empower as well as disempower the activist academic. Just as ''we need to listen, contextualise, and admit to the power we bring to bear as multiply positioned authors in the research process'' (Nast, 1994: 59), so we also need to be attentive to the power that our collaborators bring to the research process.
Through the conduct of action with others, bonds of association are forged that are crucial to the creation of common ground. Such considerations are intimately entwined with what Laura Pulido called 'the interior life of politics:' the entanglement of the emotions, psychological development, souls, passions, and minds of activist academic collaborators. An 'engagement with emotion' is thus the fourth process of activist geographies, not least because transformative encounters based on solidarity often come from our deep emotional responses to the world. Politically, emotions are intimately bound up with power relations and also with relations of affinity, and are a means of initiating action. We become politically active because we feel something profoundly, such as social injustice or ecological destruction. This emotion triggers changes in us that motivates us to engage in politics, and it is our ability to transform our feelings about the world into actions that inspires us to participate in political action. Affinity with others under such conditions creates intensive encounters, what Hakim Bey termed as 'seizure of presence', wherein practical politics – embodied, intersubjective, and relational – are practiced. Collaborative association necessitates interaction with activist others, through the doing of particular actions and the experiencing of personal and collective emotions, through creativity and imagination, and through embodied, relational practices that produce political effects.
Fifth, activist geographies attempt to engage in prefigurative action: that is, to embody visions of transformation as if they are already achieved, thereby calling them into being. There are many examples of post capitalist ways of living already part of the present, as J. K. Gibson Graham have argued in their claims about building new postcapitalist ontologies, providing a spur for activist geographies to contribute to the creation of other realities, what Harvey terms 'spaces of hope'. Moreover, collaborations are not just about action in the research process, but also about how the research process can contribute to wider activism like protests, demonstrations, events, etc. In a similar vein, and sixth process, activist geographies attempt to create spaces for action: that is, physical spaces that can be created and occupied in building commonality and connection between different groups unmediated by consumer relations or profit, those autonomous geographies discussed by Jenny Pickerill and Paul Chatterton. These common places seek opportunities for transformative dialog, mutual learning, and (creative) conflict. They form participatory spaces for building modes of understanding, encounter, and action, which are inclusive, nurture creative interaction with others independent of electoral politics, and can lead to critical reflection and interventions.
Finally, activist geographies are concerned with relational ethics. Ethical considerations raise crucial questions concerning the role played by concepts of social (in)justice in geographical research, and the extent to which ethical conduct is desirable, definable, and/or enforceable in the practice of geography. Laura Pulido suggests there are three benefits to cultivating a dialog on ethics in political activism. First, we cultivate relations of honesty, truth, and interpersonal acknowledgement, and so it is important for activist academics to be open about their 'dual' positionalities of activist and academic when collaborating with others. Second, it allows us to build a genuine moral language, in which case Pulido argues that historically the Left has settled for making arguments based on policy, fiscal analyses, legal precedents, and history to the almost complete exclusion of ethics. Third, it contributes to us becoming more fully conscious human beings, in that, while political consciousness is distinguished by its focus on structures, practices, and social relations of societal and global power, selfconsciousness refers to self knowledge, including the understanding of one's past and present; one's motivations, desires, fears, and needs; and one's relationship with the larger world – hence nurturing a politics of both affinity and relationality.
The ethics of activist geography need to be relational and contextual, a product of reciprocity between collaborators, and negotiated in practice. Relational ethical positionalities need to be for dignity, self determination, and empowerment, acknowledging that any collaborative 'we' constitutes the performance of multiple lived worlds and an entangled web of power relationships. Collaboration can enable what J. K. Gibson Graham termed in 1994 a 'partial identification' between ourselves and resisting others, as well as an articulation of a temporary common ground wherein relations of difference and power (concerning gender, age, ethnicity, class, sexuality, etc.) are negotiated across distances of culture, space, and positionality in the search for mutual understanding. A relational ethics is based on the notion of difference in relation, constituted in an intersubjective manner where difference is neither denied, essentialized, nor exoticized, but rather engaged with in an enabling and potentially transformative way. A relational ethics is also about 'decolonizing' oneself, getting used to not being the expert, and it is about mutual solidarity through the process of mutual discovery and knowing one another. A relational ethics is attentive to the social context of collaboration and our situatedness with respect to that context, and it is enacted in a material, embodied way; for example, through relations of friendship, solidarity, and empathy.
Activist geographies seek to embrace a politics of recognition that identifies and defends only those differences that can be coherently combined with social and environmental justice. Hence, when the original proposal for this encyclopaedia was mooted, many activist geographers who were asked to contribute boycotted the project. This was because the publisher, Elsevier, was owned by a corporation, Reed International, which was actively involved in organizing arms trade fairs. It was only when Reed International agreed to end its involvement with the arms trade that some of those geographers who had boycotted the project finally agreed to participate.
- Activist Methodologies, Collaborations, and Everyday Life
- Toward More Fully Activist Geographies
- Activist Geographies
- Geographies of Activism Types and Catalysts of Activism
- Network Geographies
- Moves into Geography – Bypassing Dualisms
- Actor-Network Theory
- Activist Geographies – Introduction