Creating worlds: The affective spaces of experimental politics

Creating worlds: The affective spaces of experimental politics’ was a one day workshop held at Bedford Square on the 14th January 2012. It was part of a series of events organised within the frame of the protest camps project. Bringing together around 30 researchers and activists, the day featured three round tables on the themes of affect and spatiality, organisation and spatiality and politics and spatiality. These themes intersected one another, allowing for engaged and ongoing dialogue and debate, further facilitated by informal presentations and the allowance of ample time for participation.

The day began with an introduction by Anja Kanngieser and Jenny Pickerill, who gave a context for the themes being explored. Looking at the notion of affect and political composition, as well as the importance of space to radical organisation, the introduction sought to give a background for the day’s focus on questions of “how people come together in what kinds of spaces and places; what forces and desires inform these collective spaces, and how they are sustained; how spaces and subjects are processually entangled; how social reproduction occurs – the lines of class, gender, race, ability; and the ways spaces are differentiated, that is to say, how boundaries are performed.”

The first session on affect was chaired by Anna Feigenbaum and featured a range of speakers from human and cultural geographies. It began with a presentation by Kye Askins who spoke about her work on emotional activism. Drawing from her experiences in several community projects, Askins emphasised the radical potentials of friendship, care and conviviality within everyday encounters. The presentation of Harriet Hawkins continued a focus on affective spaces of exchange and dialogue, looking more closely on the environments and atmospheres created by community artists. Turning also to the affective spaces of creative practices, Paul Simpson discussed his work on street performers and the unanticipated moments and experiences within public performance worlds. The discussion linked these moments and spaces of affect to questions of political practice and raised the issue of how to sustain such spaces and practices beyond their naming and capture.

The second session, chaired by Fabian Frenzel, explored the intersections of organisation and affect. It was humorously opened by Nazima Kadir, who discussed her ethnographic research into squatted communities in Amsterdam, with a critical view on hidden hierarchies and the role of gossip about sexual practices as a means of circulating information and challenging power. Jane Wills further spoke from her own experiences working in community organisation and the possibilities of organising from networks and infrastructures already in existence, and already equipped to build resistant communities. To conclude the session, Tim Cresswell introduced the idea of prosthesis and sought to interrogate discourses around mobility and normalised movement, from a gendered and racialised perspective. Tying in with the previous discussion from the affect session, the conversation continued around the organisation of activist and political spaces, and the need for communication and awareness in such infrastructures.

The final session, chaired by Gavin Brown, provided a grounded and place oriented perspective into protest camps. Uri Gordon began the session with an introduction and analysis to the Israeli tent protests in 2011. Adam Ramadan investigated the form of the camp itself, looking at protest camps, refugee camps and concentration camps, with an engagement of exceptionality and temporality. To end the session Andy Davies investigated Anna Hazare and the idea of fasting as politics. Raised in all three presentations were questions of class, fetishisation and political articulation.

The scope and diversity of the day, combined with the ongoing and open discussion meant that rather than getting too narrowly defined in one trajectory, there was space to explore and investigate a range of different stakes, interests and ideas. Bringing together researchers from a variety of disciplines also meant that vocabularies didn’t get stuck and asking questions was actively encouraged. While research on protest camps, their infrastructures and social relations is still relatively marginal, the event felt like an exciting moment to help build possibilities for collaboration and solidarity amongst people thinking about and participating in social movements. This is why we plan to continue running events and seminars on protest camps and the worlds that we imagine and hope for.

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