Encountering occupy London: boundary making and the territoriality of urban activism.
Keywords: encounters, territoriality, boundaries, Occupy, urban activism
On 15 October 2011 around three thousand people, including me, gathered in the financial district of London with the intention of occupying the London Stock Exchange (LSX). Just over a month previously, a similar act took place in downtown New York, where activists occupied a square near Wall Street in order to not only protest the failures of capitalism, but also demonstrate working alternatives (see Graeber, 2013). Inspired by the explosion of urban protest camps worldwide, from Tahrir Square to Puerta del Sol, a new social movement was born under the name and spatial practice of Occupy, and October 15th saw occupations spring up in hundreds of cities worldwide. In London the heavy police fortifications at the LSX informed our decision to camp in the adjacent courtyard of St Paul's cathedral. Unlike the secluded space in front of the LSX, the courtyard was a busy thoroughfare and provided endless potential for encounters. Occupy London camped at St Paul's for four and a half months, becoming one of the longest-standing camps in the Occupy movement, and subsequently occupied a second protest camp (Finsbury Square) as well as several buildings. These occupations--urban ensembles of people, things (for example, tents), and the built environment--provided spaces of encounter in which power was negotiated and new social relations were produced.
In this paper I explore practices of encountering at the St Paul's camp and argue that they provide a means for rethinking the production of territoriality. I argue that practices of boundary making not only involve hierarchical relations of power-over, following dominant understandings of territoriality, but also involve the articulation of bottom-up 'power-to' (Holloway, 2002) and the creation of urban ensembles akin to Lefebvre's (2009 ) notion of 'territorial autogestion'. The production of territoriality by social movements has been little explored in the Anglophone literature, presenting a research lacuna that is particularly striking following the wave of protest camps in 2011. While recent attention has been given to the importance of materiality for the geographies of occupation (Arenas, 2014; Vasudevan, 2014), there remains a need to examine the role of territoriality.
I suggest there are two reasons for the lack of attention to activist territorialities. Firstly, much research on territoriality has understood it in narrow terms, broadly in line with Sack's (1986, page 5) seminal definition as "a powerful geographic strategy to control people and things by controlling area". As Latin American research over recent years has demonstrated, however, territoriality is not only a hierarchical strategy of control, but also a bottom-up process of generating new social relations and values in space (Haesbaert, 2007; Porto Gonsalves, 2001; Zibechi, 2012). Secondly, in the limited discussions on territoriality and activism in the Anglophone literature, territoriality has generally been understood in relation to the production of networks (eg, Beaumont and Nicholls, 2007; Routledge and Cumbers, 2009), the central spatiality for much research into social movements. Although researchers have helpfully pointed out that territoriality and networks may be coconstituted, and are not opposed, they nevertheless fail to consider how territoriality is produced in and of itself as a spatiality of activism. Doing so requires a greater theoretical and empirical focus on territoriality and the practices through which it is produced.
This paper focuses on one element of territoriality, the practice of boundary making, and proposes encountering as a more appropriate term to represent this practice in the context of urban activism. After exploring literature on boundary making in the following section, including research on boundaries and social movements, I develop my understanding of encountering and territoriality. Specifically, I bring together Holloway's dialectical understanding of power and Lefebvre's writings on territorial autogestion and urban encounters in order to conceptualise encountering as the potential articulation of power-to, a moment in the production of territoriality from below. The remainder of the paper then examines practices of encountering in Occupy London, in the context of the General Assembly and the protest camp. In so doing I expose how power is negotiated in encounters, pointing towards the potential for forging new social relations. In addition I explore certain tensions--over the institutionalisation of encounters, their ephemerality, and the clashing of power-to--leading to a broader reflection on Occupy London's politics in the conclusion.
This paper is based on militant research conducted with Occupy London over three years. Shukaitis and Graeber (2007, page 9) define militant research as an "intensification and deepening of the political [that] starts from the understandings, experiences, and relations generated through organizing as both a method of political action and as a form of knowledge". My initial involvement in Occupy London was as a participant in the movement, and only later did it become the focus of my research. Bridging the gap between activism and research, and thought and praxis, has provided numerous tensions, in particular between my institutional requirements and responsibilities (for example, ethics reviews, PhD criteria, the pressures of building an academic career) and my commitment to a social movement and the everyday practices of activism. In academia, militant research is necessarily located not only within, but also against and beyond the university (see Autonomous Geographies Collective, 2010; Russell, 2014). My research combined a seven-month ethnography, forty-three in-depth interviews with Occupiers, and archive analysis. Although Occupy London continues to exist at the time of writing, albeit without a protest camp, my own participation in the movement lasted less than a year. (1) This has posed additional tensions as I continue to write about the movement from an increasingly detached perspective. Militant research is based on a commitment to intensifying and deepening struggles, yet a key challenge is being able to balance critical reflection with political support. In what follows I present my research with the aim of learning from the case study of Occupy London, and with the hope of applying it in how we think about, and put into practice, ongoing struggles over the production of space.
Territoriality and boundary making
Territoriality is a fundamental concept of political geography (Cox, 2003), and has been discussed widely over recent decades. Early discussions on territoriality were dominated by ethological approaches, which focused on behavioural practices that demarcate spaces for biological functions (Ardrey, 1967; Malmberg, 1980). Soja (1971), however, suggested that whilst ethology has been important to human society historically, it is increasingly being replaced by a political imperative to organise space, particularly through the form of the state. In what has arguably become the defining text on human territoriality, Sack (1986) took this discussion forward by both rejecting outright an ethological basis, and emphasising how territoriality is a multiscalar strategy existing beyond the confines of the state. He famously defined territoriality as "the attempt by an individual or group to affect, influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area" (page 19). It is this understanding of territoriality as a strategy for producing abstract space by exerting power over others that has come to dominate in much geographical analysis (eg, Agnew, 2008; Herbert, 1997).
The concept of boundaries is central to most definitions of territoriality, and is the aspect I focus on in this paper. For Sack (1986, page 32), boundaries are a core feature of territoriality in communicating some hierarchically imposed classification of space that involves "a statement about possession or exclusion". Territoriality is a strategy for exerting power over people and things in space, and boundaries are a simple and effective means of communicating this. As Sack (1986, page 19) states, "boundaries are used by some authority to mold, influence, or control activities." Boundaries thus serve as markers for the ordering of space and "are political strategies designed to attain particular ends" (Storey, 2012, page 9). In this way territoriality has commonly come to be understood as "the assignment of meanings--of various sorts--to bounded spaces, to borders and boundaries, to the crossing of lines" (Delaney, 2005, page 28).
Across the ever-expanding literature on boundaries there is a recognition of the need to consider them as active processes rather than as fixed containers or markers (eg, Jones and Johnson, 2014; Rajaram and Grundy-Warr, 2007). Paasi (1996; 2009) has pointed out that boundaries are in constant flux and rely on ongoing practices that reconstitute them at a range of scales. He emphasises that boundaries are social processes that take place in particular sociospatial contexts, through which othering and exclusion may occur. Elsewhere Novak (2011) has pointed out that although boundaries may be produced as a strategy of territoriality, a hierarchical attempt to reach a particular end, there is nothing pregiven about what they may lead to. Boundaries are precisely an attempt, an attempt that is constantly being contested and often leads to unknown outcomes. Novak (2011) thus argues that boundaries are part of a 'flexible territoriality' that is a much more open process than the work of Sack, and others, has recognised.
While the work of Paasi and Novak is useful for conceptualising boundaries as social processes that are part of a flexible territoriality, their starting point is the attempt to order space from above through a strategic understanding of territoriality, which is of limited use for understanding social movements. There is a growing literature, however, that considers boundaries from the perspective of activism. Many have pointed out that boundaries often act as spaces of resistance, for example through contestations and struggles against the production of international borders (Antonsich, 2013; Pallister-Wilkins, 2011; Staudt, 2008). Most optimistically, Hardt and Negri (2004) suggest that border crossing and mobility can act as weapons against dominant, territorialised forms of power. Elsewhere, Jones's (2012) research at the India Bangladesh border demonstrates how state-based territoriality is never all-encompassing and that borders are as much 'spaces of refusal' as they are spaces of domination, in which the everyday practices of local populations are able to resist and escape the imposition of boundaries from above. Boundaries are not only associated with the nation-state, but take place through ongoing practices of enclosure and 'accumulation by dispossession' (Harvey, 2003). Once again, social movements are framed as breaking down fences (Klein, 2002) and transforming enclosures into commons (Jeffrey et al, 2011).
At the same time, however, boundaries can be generative sites of struggle that activists strive to construct, as recent research has pointed out. Firstly, the production of temporary boundaries such as barricades has long been a feature of social movements, part of what Schulze (2012) terms 'revolutionary borders' that consistently reappear in urban battlegrounds (see Routledge, 1994; Scholl, 2012). Here boundaries, and barricades, are crucial for practices of resistance, defending spaces from externally imposed violence. Although Feigenbaum et al (2013) have noted barricades to be a common feature in protest camps worldwide, in the case of Occupy London there was little need for such a defensive strategy, in part because for the camp's duration there was an ongoing battle in court over its legality. Secondly, boundaries have been crucial to more long-lasting attempts at creating spaces of autonomy such as squats and social centres (Chatterton and Pickerill, 2010; Squatting Europe Kollective, 2013). Ince (2012, page 1654) notes that an autonomous reading of borders shifts the focus from 'controlling flows' towards 'nurturing or adapting ... relationships', tying in with Novak's (2011) 'flexible' reading of boundaries, dynamic processes through which power relations are negotiated. This aspect of boundary making has been central to Occupy London, as I demonstrate below.
Rethinking boundaries: encounters, power-to, and territorial autogestion
In order to develop a more relevant vocabulary for the territoriality of social movements I suggest that practices of boundary making can be rethought through the concept of encounters. The idea of the encounter is often employed to describe diverse practices of meeting, typically in unexpected or casual ways, through which identities are constructed and negotiated across difference (Ahmed, 2000; Watson, 2006). Increasing attention has been paid to spaces of encounter and their transformative potentials (Askins and Pain, 2011), particularly in the context of urban inclusivity and cosmopolitanism (Binnie et al, 2006; Mawani, 2012; Watson, 2006). Much of this literature references Allport's (1954) 'contact theory', which argued that increased contact between different social groups would decrease prejudice and improve relations. In an influential text on the geographies of encounter, however, Valentine (2008) emphasises that encounters should be not romanticised, and that practices of encountering often fail to change underlying values and prejudices (see also Lawson and Elwood, 2014).
Spaces of encounter thus tend to be based on ambiguous and antagonistic practices, and remain unpredictable and open in their outcomes. In one of few attempts to explore encounters in the context of activism, Chatterton (2006, page 272) examines the mundane encounters that take place between "activists and their 'others"' during protests, and argues that spaces of encounter are produced on the basis of the notion of 'uncommon ground'--that is, sites of uneven power relations and assumed identities. These encounters problematise binary divisions and create spaces for relations and values to be built across difference. Spaces of encounter thus provide generative sites in which boundaries are simultaneously constructed and broken down. Yet it is important to emphasise that the outcomes of encounters are open and unpredictable, because of constant negotiations of power relations, and thus have a politics to them. In order to build a deeper conceptualisation of encountering and the production of territoriality, it is thus necessary to examine in more detail the power relations involved.
I have suggested that territoriality is typically defined in Anglophone research in relation to the concept of power-over, a particular modality of power broadly associated with domination and typically seen in a negative light. Power-over was famously summarised by Dahl (1957, pages 202-203), who stated "A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do", a definition that led to debates over the multiple 'dimensions' (Bachrach and Baratz, 1970) and 'faces' (Lukes, 1974) of power-over (see Haugaard, 2012). In contrast, others have sought to theorise power as both a precondition for power-over and the potential for empowerment, commonly referred to as power-to (eg, Arendt, 1970; Parsons, 1963). The distinction between power-over and power-to remains common in contemporary understandings of power (Gohler, 2009; Pansardi, 2012), and provides the basis for my rethinking of boundaries, following the dialectical approach of Holloway.
Holloway (2002, page 28) argues that the starting point for power is a "capacity-to-do, the ability to do things", a power-to. This power-to is a social capacity to create on the basis of our needs and desires, what Marx termed 'concrete labour' and Holloway calls 'doing'. With the development of capitalism, power-to is fractured and turned into its opposite: power-over, "a relation of power over others" (page 29). Power-over, however, exists only through the constant rupturing and transforming of power-to, appropriating and fetishising our social capacities into abstract labour. Crucially, then, power-to can exist only in the negation of power-over, a negation that exposes power-over's inherent vulnerability. As Holloway (2002, page 36) summarises:
"Power-to exists as power-over, but the power-to is subjected to and in rebellion against power-over, and power-over is nothing but, and therefore absolutely dependent upon, the metamorphosis of power-to."
The relationship between power-to and power-over is thus an internal one, a dialectical relationship based on a constant negation-and-creation. In his more recent work, Holloway (2010, page 24) argues that the revolutionary challenge is to constantly create "cracks" in capitalism, "space[s] or moment[s] of negation-and-creation, of refusal and other doing". Cracks are based on the confluence and coming-together of power-to, of practices of 'doing', always pushing against-and-beyond power-over and the abstraction into labour. The challenge of encounters, then, is to articulate relations of power-to while negating power-over. Doing so may allow for "the present creation or strengthening of social relations incompatible with capitalism" (Holloway, 2010, page 41). Following Holloway, power-over cannot be considered without reference to its opposite, power-to, and it is within this antagonism that potential for revolutionary struggle opens up.
Although there have been critiques of the power-to-power-over binary, which I explore below, my starting point for rethinking boundaries is that both power-to and power-over are implicated in the production of territoriality, and boundaries in particular, but that much closer attention needs to be given to this dialectic, particularly from the side of power-to. Indeed, in one of the most concerted efforts to think through the geographies of power, Allen (2009) argues that the territorial power of boundaries relies predominantly on the modality of domination, a 'top-down' and 'centre-out' relationship based on a geometry of extension and reach. Although Allen goes on to develop a more nuanced, topological understanding of power (see also, Allen, 2003), he fails to recognise how a modality of power-to could also be central to thinking through territorial power and boundaries. The dialectical power relations underlying the production of space are central to the work of Lefebvre, which complements Holloway's theory of power.
In his influential spatial theorisations, Lefebvre (1991) argues that the production of space tends to be dominated by certain representations (tied to state and capital) and the need to create exchange value, leading to an abstract and seemingly homogeneous space. For Lefebvre, however, the domination of space is never complete and always exists in an antagonistic relationship with appropriation--the reproduction of space through new practices, representations, and imaginations based on collective desires of 'the possible' towards a self-managed differential space. Lefebvre (1976, page 36) thus emphasises that dialectics is a fundamentally spatial category, revealing the contradictions of abstract space and "making possible tomorrow what is impossible today". As Lefebvre (1991, page 165) states, the concept of dominated space "attains its full meaning only when it is contrasted with the opposite and inseparable concept of appropriation". Bringing this together with Holloway's understanding of power, I suggest that the production of space be seen as a constant struggle between power-over, creating spatialities that control and delimit the possibilities for consuming and reproducing space, and power-to, a collective capacity to create space according to needs and desires.
Across his diverse writings, particularly in the years surrounding the uprisings of 1968, Lefebvre developed the concept of autogestion, loosely translated as 'self-management', to describe the radical potential of appropriating space. Like Holloway's understanding of power-to and 'doing', Lefebvre's autogestion was an 'oeuvre', something "unique: an object bearing the stamp of a 'subject', of the creator or artists, and of a single, unrepeatable moment" (Lefebvre, 1991, page 422), a nonaccumulative act of creation (Lefebvre, 2002). As he stated,
"Only through autogestion can the members of a free association take control over their own life, in such a way that it becomes their work [oeuvre]. This is also called appropriation, de-alienation" (2009 , page 150).
Like Holloway's 'cracks', autogestion is a dialectical concept based on both a refusal "to accept passively [the] condition of existence" and also a creation, a push "to master [the] conditions of existence" (Lefebvre, 2009 , page 135). There are two features of Lefebvre's autogestion that can help us rethink boundaries and the production of territoriality, in order to develop the notion of encounters.
First, Lefebvre emphasised that autogestion should take on a territorial form, stressing the need to occupy spaces outside the form of the state. In The Production of Space Lefebvre (1991, pages 292, 382, 416) highlights the imperative for autogestion to occupy 'territorial entities' that are autonomous of state and capital, something he elsewhere referred to as 'territorial autogestion': "exerting pressure against the summits of state power and leading a concrete struggle for concrete objectives" (2009 , page 250). Lefebvre stated, "I believe that autogestion initiatives are rooted, embedded within the soil" (1976, page 163) and emphasised the need for the production of a material space in which autogestion could develop. The most concrete examples of territorial autogestion he gave included the occupation of privileged spaces in the Paris Commune (for example, the City Hall), and occupying the "domains abandoned by the colonialists" (2009 , page 145) in Algeria. The protest camp appears to be another good example. In an exploration of Lefebvre's reading of territory, with particular reference to his theories of the state, Brenner and Elden (2009, page 361) helpfully point out that Lefebvre also "mobilizes the concept of territory to describe the site and the target of contemporary struggles for autogestion". In addition, I suggest that Lefebvre's territorial autogestion can be put to work in examining practices of territoriality, such as boundary making, focusing our attention on the negotiation of power relations in struggles over the production of space. (2)
Merrifield (2013) has drawn on Lefebvre's urban writings to argue that the wave of protest camp movements in 2011, including Occupy, was based on a 'politics of encounter'. Lefebvre (1996) defined the urban as "a field of encounters" (page 111), a "mental and social form" that he often associated with "simultaneity" and "gathering" (page 131). Lefebvre (2003) saw this urban field of encounters "not as an accomplished reality ... but ... as a horizon, an illuminating virtuality" (pages 16-17). Encounters, then, suggest a potentiality, a push towards 'the possible'. Care should be taken not to understand encounters as an inherently radical, or revolutionary, feature of the urban form, but instead to focus on the politics of encounter, as Merrifield (2013) argues. Lefebvre's texts on the urban can be usefully brought together with his notion of territorial autogestion, highlighting how practices of encountering are a central battleground for the dialectic of the appropriation and domination of space, the struggle to 'take control' of life.
Second, in contrast to Holloway, Lefebvre argued that negativity is insufficient in itself to sustain the bottom-up power that produces territorial autogestion. For Lefebvre (2009 , page 147), the key challenge of autogestion is to move beyond negation and "to constitute itself as a power which is not that of the state". A key form that autogestion must take is therefore that of an institution (Lefebvre, 1969), an institution that moves both against and beyond the state. The failure of autogestion to constitute itself as an institution risks it being reappropriated by the state or it being unable to sustain itself. This implies that practices of encountering, without a means of institutionalisation, are liable to be ephemeral and of little lasting change.
Bringing together the work of Holloway and Lefebvre, I suggest that practices of encountering be understood as a potential moment in the articulation of power-to against power-over, a moment in the creation of territorial autogestion in which space is appropriated as an oeuvre against tendencies of domination. Encounters offer a radical rethinking of boundary making, as a bottom-up practice of territoriality that has the potential to generate new social relations that sit in opposition to capitalist society.
The focus on producing new social relations has been central to Latin American research, which has been at the forefront in rethinking territoriality from the perspective of social movements. Following the influential work of Porto-Gonpalves, who researched the indigenous struggles of the seringueiros in the Amazon, arguing they were producing a new territoriality based on self-affirmation of their own identities and values, Zibechi (2012) has since argued that the production of 'new territorialities' is the central feature of urban activism across the continent. These territorialities are no longer rooted in spaces tied to the state and capital such as the factory, political party, or trade union, but focused on the material and symbolic appropriation of space, from road blocks to neighbourhood assemblies (Stratta and Barrera, 2009), in which "encounters and relationships occur that may give rise to new potentials" (Zibechi, 2012, page 78). The opportunities and challenges of producing new social relations through territoriality is an important lesson from Occupy London's practices of encountering.
Encountering Occupy London I: general assemblies
"October 17th, 2011, day 3 of the Occupation, and I sat down on the steps of St Paul's with around 100 others for a general assembly (GA). I felt a real buzz in the air as we assembled ourselves to collectively discuss how to take the movement forward. After some announcements from working groups, the remainder of the GA focused on tonight's theme: 'what do we want and how do we get it?' We split off into small groups and discussed a range of issues, such as resistance to the government's austerity politics, addressing sexual and racial prejudices and helping build self-managed workers movements. No decisions were made at this GA, but there was much enthusiasm to keep putting our ideas into practice, and working groups were tasked with taking forward the issues discussed." (3)
The GA not only was a tool for horizontal decision making, a form of self-management in line with Lefebvre's territorial autogestion, but provided a space of encounter in which people could meet each other to share ideas and build social relations. For many of my interviewees, participating in the GA for the first time was one of the most significant experiences they had with Occupy London. Many talked of the sudden confidence they felt, and a sense of empowerment in encountering others who were speaking out on issues that resonated with them. Reflecting on one of the initial GAs, Occupier Sara told me, "I really like that we broke out into groups very soon, 1 remember talking to the other people in the group, and that was like really empowering." (4) There was a newfound potential, a power-to, which for some meant that it was not even necessary to speak; it was enough to be present. As another Occupier, Chris, told me:
"I arrived on the first day, and I attended the General Assembly and I sat on the steps of St Paul's and had this really overwhelming sense for the first time in my life I had a voice, and it really felt like that, in a group of people, and in a decision-making process, and I hadn't, I mean I never spoke, I didn't say a word, but I felt that I had a voice, in other words if I needed to say something I could have done."
The GA provided Chris with a space of encounter in which he could express himself and exert his power-to. For many, the significance of creating a nonhierarchical space of encounter was the contrast it provided to dominant forms of politics, including the government and leftwing political parties. Sara told me how she had struggled to get politically involved in the UK for many years:
"If I wanted to get involved in politics then I had to fit into the organisations that were already there, and they were often connected to political parties, and that put me off ... and I sort of went on reading and stuff and not finding anyone or anything I wanted to engage with and then like it was like coming down to Occupy and suddenly really feeling that there were so many people I was connected with, and that I could understand, and that we could communicate with, it was really shocking! Cos I hadn't found that for such a long time!"
The space of encounter of the GA was both a rejection of previous political experiences and a simultaneous desire to recreate a horizontal political space of encounter. The territoriality of Occupy London was thus being produced through a confluence of power-to, an ensemble of relations seeking to foster new ways of relating to each other in a political space. These new social relations produced by our territoriality could be summarised in the notion of 'horizontality', which Sitrin (2006) examines in the context of Argentine social movements. Horizontality (horizontalidad in Spanish)
"does not just imply a flat plane for organizing, or non-hierarchical relations in which people no longer make decisions for others. It is a positive word that implies the use of direct democracy and the striving for consensus, processes in which everyone is heard and new relationships are created. Horizontalidad is a new way of relating, based in affective politics, and against all of the implications of 'isms'" (page vi).
Although some Occupiers had previous experience with horizontality from other social movements, for many this was a new way of relating. Simon, who became active in organising GAs through the 'process' working group, told me how he felt when attending the GA:
"It was just such a nice place to be, it was such a sort of antithesis to everything surrounding it, it was a really powerful place to be in that sense and I just learned how to listen to politics, and ... then realised what I wanted to start adding."
This 'antithesis' that Simon talks about can be read as the importance of generating social relations that are qualitatively different to "the commodified, monetised relations of capitalism" (Holloway, 2010, page 43). Indeed, the GA was located in the City of London, the city's financial district, a highly monetised space. It provided a space of encounter that allowed for new social relations to develop based on an affective politics of horizontality, opening up new potentials in what Lefebvre describes as a push towards 'the possible'.
In the production of territoriality, then, the GA is an example of a delimited space in which difference could be articulated, presenting an open and flexible practice of boundary making. Yet, although the GA had begun with much hope being invested into its potential, over time it would not live up to the high expectations that were placed on it.
Institutionalising the GA
"7.15pm, a cold and dark evening, sometime in December (2011). We were now huddled together inside the Tent City University--we had decided several days ago that it was too cold to be sat outside on the steps. The cold weather seemed to have made tensions on camp worse, with numerous conflicts developing between different individuals and factions, who were often in disagreement about how to take the movement forward. On tonight's agenda, a perennially painful topic of discussion: finance. There was a row developing over how money should be allocated to different working groups, camps, and occupied buildings. This GA soon became a painful experience, dominated by those who could shout the loudest, and who had the will to stay put for over three hours on this freezing evening. It became clear to me that there was little hope for resolving these issues at the GA, and I left."
Two months since I had sat at our GA on the steps of St Paul's, feeling the buzz as new social relations were forged, this experience presented a marked contrast, and was becoming typical of GAs. Although the GA had begun as a space of encounter--allowing for diverse powers-to to come together and resonate with each other, creating social relations of horizontality--it was increasingly acting as a space of power-over, an institutional space that attracted bitter disagreements and had little room for collective practices.
The issue of institutionalising movements through the space of the GA has been widely commented on in different Occupy camps worldwide. In their study on Occupy Pittsburgh, Smith and Gidden (2012) discuss the 'fetishisation of the consensus model', which drives those Occupiers who are able to attend hours of GAs per day, thus excluding those who lack the time, patience, or interest in doing so. Elsewhere Rohgalf (2013) suggests that by prioritising the space of the GA, Occupy Wall Street provided an unrealistic expectation that the plurality and diversity of voices could ever be represented through one institution. Finally, in her investigation of Occupy in San Francisco and Dublin, Szolucha (2013) argues that the model of participatory democracy as practised in the GA was far from an 'ideal' form of society, containing numerous unresolved tensions and conflicts. All of these issues were present in Occupy London, whose GA was increasingly excluding people from it, producing boundaries less through an articulation of power-to and more through an exertion of power-over.
For Holloway (2002), power-over involves a rupturing of the social flow of doing (the coming together and confluencing of power-to) and consists of the fixing of doing to particular forms, a process of fetishisation (Holloway, 2002). A key mechanism in this fixing of the social flow of doing is that of institutionalisation, "the subordination of we do to what is" (Holloway, 2002, page 243). In the case of the GA the various powers-to of different Occupiers, their potential to do something, were being subordinated and held hostage to the institution of the GA. If the GA did not grant permission then an Occupier would be prohibited from putting his or her idea into practice. This in turn relied on the capacity of an Occupier to sit through long and (sometimes) painful discussions. All too often the potential articulation of power-to, Holloway's 'social flow of doing', was shattered by the negative experience of attending the GA. One Occupier, Miranda, explained this to me in the context of women's voices being marginalised at GAs:
"[in GAs] you're supposed to be equal, but 1 think we still have a lot of work to do with GAs to make sure that we don't have the same people speaking ... and unfortunately we lost a lot of our women at Occupy because it became very much, like the loudest man, as always, would have a bigger voice ... we didn't respect [women's] voices and that was a really big mistake."
This quote raises more general issues about the masculinist practices of activism that were prevalent in Occupy London (see Halvorsen, 2015), but also highlights how the GA became a exclusionary space for many, ignoring the ongoing need to forge alternative social relations, based on horizontality, through encounters. Occupy London's GA was unable to resolve most of these issues, and many Occupiers looked elsewhere to forge social relations and continue practising horizontality.
Encountering Occupy London II: the protest camp Articulating new social relations
The protest camp at St Paul's provided an open space of encounter through which new social relations could be forged, generating some of the most valuable experiences expressed to me by my interviewees. Julia, an Occupier based at St Paul's, told me that the protest camp, as space of encounter, was one of the most important achievements of the movement. She told me:
"it was a meeting place for people, you know, for different kinds of activists, and different kinds of activist groups that didn't tend to meet, and people who weren't activists ... it was much more diverse than the standard snapshot of any standard demonstration ... it felt really good, I met a lot of people and had a lot of discussions with people who I would otherwise never have talked to."
The protest camp thus facilitated the crossing of boundaries between different groups of people, an articulation of power-to that was productive of what Lefebvre (1991, page 52) terms a "differential space": a space that "accentuates differences" against the homogenising logic of abstract space. The encounters of the protest camp were productive of new social relations that were central to territoriality of Occupy London. Rather than marking a boundary that excluded 'us' from 'them', exerting a power-over space, the protest camp was producing a flexible boundary that encouraged the articulation of power-to. Martha, who lived at St Paul's, described the new social relations being forged on camp:
" I was walking around camp and it was amazing because people would smile and say hey [and] give me a hug ... creating bonds with strangers without knowing anything about them, and it was so like, unlike any other relationships that perhaps people have outside of that ... it was more friendly but it was also based on not how much money they might have had or where they came from or what their background was, because you didn't necessarily know, you would just meet with them and get on with it and just work together ... it was less prejudice in friendship making if you see what I mean."
The social relations built on camp thus had a quality about them that seemed "unlike any other relationship" that people have elsewhere. Latin American literature on social movements and territoriality has described the new social relations being forged as part of an affective politics (Mazzeo, 2006; Zibechi, 2007; 2012), in which, as Sitrin (2012, page 178) summarises, "the beginning point is solidarity, not competition or the market." Affect has become a much more contested term in the Anglophone literature, and my aim here is simply to point towards some of those social relations being forged through practices of encountering. Importantly, it was the urban ensemble of the protest camp that provided what Lefebvre (2003) refers to as 'centrality': an attraction and bringing together of differences--a key feature of Occupy London's territoriality that allowed for these affective social relations to be forged.
Veronica, who spent much of her time at the info tent--which acted as an important boundary for Occupy London through its function as the main site for welcoming new arrivals on camp--told me how she encountered dozens of people per day, and described one particularly memorable encounter. She recalled how a family, consisting of a mum who was working part-time, a father who had just been made redundant, and their young child had come all the way down from the North of England to visit Occupy London and turned up at the info tent. They spent a while discussing the politics of austerity and how Occupy had given them confidence that change was possible, even donating money to the movement. Veronica told me:
"there was a kind of an exchange of hope and, you know, keep doing what you're doing because you're not just doing it for yourselves or some group of hippies you're doing it for a lot of other people that are really encountering a lot of difficulty financially, and that always stuck with me, and the kid was also interested, and was picking up leaflets and asking what they were."
Although the family donated money, the significant exchange for Veronica was not a monetised one, but an affective 'exchange of hope' for a better world. Following Anderson (2006), this encounter could be seen as a moment in the circulation of affects and emotions, a moment in which the value of hope emerges. The territorial practice of encountering thus allowed for an affective value of hope to be produced and take hold, an articulation of 'value practices' (De Angelis, 2007) based on power-to.
Practices of encountering also allowed for social relations to be constructed across seemingly rigid boundaries, most noticeably between the Occupiers and the so-called 'one percent', which my interviewees referred to as 'people in suits', who presumably worked at the Stock Exchange or other nearby spaces of finance production. Although these encounters often started (and sometimes ended) in hostile ways, they had the potential to break down perceived boundaries and forge new relations across difference. As John, who was camping at St Paul's, told me:
"the most interesting conversations I had were late at night with slightly drunk people in suits ... quite often it started with kind of a bit of edge you know, but actually often people were really pleased to engage and not be vilified and ... we had this great opportunity ... of having this many possible conversations with those who seem to be the 1% or who's in line with 1% and having as many possible conversations that break down these barriers between people I think is really useful, and the camp was such a great opportunity to do that."
In many ways, then, the protest camp provided a space of encounter in which boundaries served not to hierarchically order space, dividing and excluding, but were instead orientated towards the forging of social relations. Nevertheless, encounters on camp did not always occur through an articulation of powers-to, but through a clash between them. I end with an example of a less hopeful encounter, highlighting the need to examine in detail the power relations involved, and not assume that power-to will necessarily lead to beneficial outcomes.
Clashes of power-to
Christina was involved in the Cathedral liaison group, attending regular meetings with the warden, and doing her best to please St Paul's in order to comply with health and safety regulations and to try and prevent any legal action being taken. The Cathedral regularly made requests of Occupy London, such as not having GAs during services, or refraining from posting things on the side of the church. This often presented a conflict for Occupiers who wanted full autonomy to be able to produce their space as they desired. On one occasion, Christina agreed with St Paul's for a fence to go up in order to make sure there was access to the Cathedral's fire exit. This led to a reaction by some Occupiers who confronted Christina as the fence went up:
"there was an immediate response by quite a lot of angry young guys about it and I was quite upset by that confrontation because 1 was getting a lot of it, people shouting in my face and so we started, as a response, two people came along and realised that I was being shouted at by fellow protesters, and came and backed me up and they brought things along, they were bringing wool and cotton, and they started decorating the fence and then [St Paul's] said yes that's absolutely fine ... and a younger and angrier male contingent started putting up posters in response to that because they felt there was a sort of inner policing going on by us ... it was kind of the case of this symbolic thing, of a fence coming up, and this immediate reaction but really hot-headedness and not understanding."
This encounter was far from an articulation of power-to, but was instead a clash between conflicting understandings over how the space of the protest camp should be produced. Ironically, although the 'angry male contingent' opposed the materiality of a barrier being constructed at the camp, they simultaneously reproduced a boundary through their confrontational practices with fellow Occupiers. Both Christina (and those assisting her) and those opposed to the fence were exerting a power-to produce space from below, and both sides were seemingly committed to the politics of Occupy London, a key value of which was horizontality. Yet, rather than forging a new social relationship based on shared values, this encounter instead produced a division involving much hostility. This raises serious questions about how the power relations of encounters should be read.
In a critical reflection of Holloway's work, De Angelis (2005) argues that Holloway fails to appreciate the challenge of clashing powers-to, and the ways in which power-to is itself the basis for power-over. As he states,
"Power-over is a type of relation among powers-to, it is constituted by this relation ... power-over is not something opposed to power-to, but the end result of clashing between powers-to running in opposite directions" (page 244).
De Angelis's reading of power-to can be located within wider critiques of the power-to--power-over binary. Scholars have suggested that power-to and power-over should not be read as opposed, and that care should be taken not to privilege one over the other. For example, Dowding (1991) suggests that power-to is a more basic, or underlying, form of power, an 'outcome power', from which power-over, as a subset of power-to, a 'social power', develops. According to Dowding, any deliberate attempt to use one's power-to in order to influence the 'incentive structure' of other actors is necessarily a power-over. While this claim requires further interrogation, it seems clear that encounters of power-to may, in certain cases, lead to a relation of power-over, and this is something that Holloway largely fails to address.
Pansardi (2012) argues that power-to and power-over have little analytical distinction, and that any instance of power-to, for example, the power to build a house, necessarily involves an instance of power-over, for example, the power to buy materials from others. Unfortunately, however, Pansardi fails to consider a social relation of power that does not involve some form of hierarchy, whether it be the harder power-over of physical violence, or the softer power-over of capitalist and market relations.
The utility of Holloway's approach for theorising activism is that he starts from the perspective of struggle and social change, and argues that it is crucial to appreciate that power-to is not only entangled in relations of power-over, but that it has the latent potential to push against and beyond it. It is the antagonism dividing the dialectic, Holloway argues, which provides the crucial battleground for revolutionary struggle. Nevertheless, more attention needs to be given to how encounters of power-to can lead to relations of power-over. Doing so may involve greater strategic thinking by activists, as De Angelis argues, bringing us back to Lefebvre's insistence on the need for institutions of autogestion.
In this paper 1 have argued for greater attention to the production of territoriality by social movements, suggesting that boundary making be rethought of as practices of encountering. By examining Occupy London's spaces of encounter in the GA and protest camp, it has demonstrated how boundaries serve less as a means of exerting power-over space, as understood in dominant accounts of territoriality, and more as a means of articulating power-to, thus reorienting territorial practices towards a more radical and open geography of power. At the same time, however, numerous tensions within practices of encountering have been exposed. In this conclusion I reflect on some broader challenges of producing activist territoriality, thus suggesting potential resonances with other occupation-based movements worldwide.
First, as Chatterton (2006) has previously pointed out, activist practices of encountering tend to be ephemeral, relying on the moment of protest and occupation, and can be hard to sustain over time. For example, while encounters between Occupiers and 'people in suits' may have been productive of new social relations that break down difference, few of these relations were sustained beyond the protest camp, or even the moment of encounter. Although many encounters of Occupy London were highly transformative, producing new activist subjectivities, they relied on the material space of encounter, a delineated urban ensemble of relations that made the development of new social relations possible. The St Paul's camp, together with a second at Finsbury Square, were two of the long-standing protest camps in the global Occupy movement, lasting several months, whereas camps elsewhere lasted weeks, days, and in some cases activists were prevented from taking space in the first place. The need to move beyond the ephemerality of encounters is part of what led Lefebvre to argue for the need to create new institutions for practices of autogestion, and opens up an important debate.
Second, then, this paper has demonstrated a need to institutionalise practices of encounter in order to provide a lasting form that can sustain the ongoing forging of new social relations across both space and time. Whereas previous global social movements, such as the alterglobalisation movements of the late 1990s and early 2000s, were successful in forging numerous networked, decentralised institutions--with the World Social Forum providing a prominent example--the occupation-based movements of 2011 have tended to merge into distinct projects and have yet to solidify into a lasting institution. The political implications of creating institutions for social movement practices are debatable, however, with Holloway providing a strong counterargument (see Hardt and Holloway, 2011). Indeed, this paper has also demonstrated the damaging effects that institutionalisation can have on practices of encounter, most clearly exemplified in the decline of the GA as a space of horizontality and articulation of power-to. Sustaining the radical potential of practices of encountering beyond spaces of occupation remains a key challenge for social movements, and the role of institutions will require considerable further examination.
Finally, however, irrespective of activists' ability to sustain encounters, more attention must be given to the negotiations of power relations in practices of encountering, rather than assuming that, in producing territoriality from below, power-to will necessarily be articulated against hierarchical relations of power-over. As Lefebvre has pointed out, there is a perennial threat of recuperation of autogestion, and seemingly radical practices can always be turned against themselves (2005, pages 105-107). Although the Occupy movement has been celebrated for its 'cosmopolitanism' (Hamad Hosseini, 2013), care must be taken to not romanticise activist practices, and presume that an encountering of power-to will lead to an articulation, rather than a clash, as demonstrated in this paper. Practices of encountering demonstrate the significance of territoriality for social movements and the need to think through the radical opportunities, as well as challenges, of boundary making. Yet it is necessary to remain alert to the dialectics that underlie both power (Holloway, 2002) and the production of space (Lefebvre, 1991) in the hope that, as occupations continue to appear worldwide, spaces of encounter provide openings towards 'the possible' where autogestion "indicates the road toward the transformation of everyday existence" (Lefebvre, 1969, page 90).
Sam Halvorsen Department of Geography, University College London, Pearson Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, England; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 19 February 2014; in revised form 28 October 2014; published online 13 March 2015
Acknowledgements. Thanks to Occupy for making this research possible, and giving me hope. I am grateful to Kye Askins, Gavin Brown, Alan Ingram, Anna Plyushteva, and Jennifer Robinson for comments on drafts. Two anonymous reviewers and Stuart Elden made insightful comments, greatly improving the final version. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant: S/J500185/).
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(l)See http://occupylondon.org.uk/ for up-to-date information on Occupy London's activities.
(2) I refer to territoriality as an active mode of operating towards space rather than as "the condition or status of territory", a distinction that Elden (2013, page 4) helpfully makes. Thus, my use of territorial autogestion is oriented towards those practices through which power-to is articulated against power-over, and space is appropriated against its domination, rather than towards an understanding of territory itself.
(3) Unless from interviews, indented passages are based on my field notes.
(4) Pseudonyms are used for interviewees.
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