International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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140 Contesting the capital: Historical geographies of protest in London
Convenor(s) Hannah Awcock (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Diarmaid Kelliher (University of Glasgow, UK)
Chair(s) Innes Keighren (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 10 July 2015, Timeslot 3 (14:15 - 16:00)
Room RGS-IBG Council Room - DO NOT USE 2020
Session abstract In recent years London has been the site for a wide range of protests: marches against austerity, student occupations, the 2011 riots, UK Uncut and protests by (and against) the English Defence League. Such protests in the capital and elsewhere have coincided with a growing interest in protest in the past amongst geographers and historians (Navickas 2012). Within this work there has often been a strong focus on rural protest (for example, Griffin 2014). This session seeks to explore the historical geographies of protest in London as a contribution to these debates. A number of recent works in geography have suggested ways in which the politics of London is embedded in expansive translocal and international connections (Featherstone 2010; McDowell, Anitha, and Pearson 2012; Brown and Yaffe 2014). From the Peasants' Revolt to Women Against Pit Closures marching in London during the 1984-5 miners' strike, the national and imperial capital has also often functioned as a focus for a broad political imaginary. This session includes both empirically-based papers and methodological debates on researching London's relationship to historical geographies of protest. A broad understanding of 'protest' will be employed, and we will reflect on what constitutes protest.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
London calling: The Capital as a focus of protest and dissent
Hannah Awcock (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
For as long as there has been a settlement on the banks of the River Thames, there has also been protest, contention and dissent. From Boudicca, Guy Fawkes and the IRA through to the recent Occupy and student movements, London has played host to countless contentious people, groups and events. This paper will serve as an introduction to the session, thinking about why London has such a long and colourful history of acting as a focus for marches, riots, rallies and demonstrations. This paper will draw on theoretical literature about social movements and protest in cities in order to try and explain this history, as well as looking at the specifics of London, which has arguably served as the political, economic, social and cultural centre of Britain for centuries. What is it that draws radicals to the city, and what makes it such a contentious place?
Fitting protest into the rhythms of London: The urban geographies of "non-stop" anti-apartheid protest in the 1980s
Gavin Brown (University of Leicester, UK)
Long-term protests reveal much about the ways in which protest both fits into urban space and disrupts it. In 1986, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group launched a Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy. They maintained their continuous protest for nearly four years, ending only after Mandela had been released from gaol. Their noisy protest attempted to disrupt the work of apartheid’s diplomatic mission, but at times it also disturbed local residents, church services, and the central London traffic. The Picket’s constant presence allowed people from diverse background’s to negotiate their involvement around work, education, and family commitments. The Picket’s location also brought it into contact with the full range of people – including homeless runaways, suburban office temps, and tired clubbers – who found themselves on the streets of London at different times of the day and night. The geography of the Non-Stop Picket reveals as much about the urban geography of Thatcher’s Britain as it does about the history of protest in London.
Voicing the Dead: Crossbones Graveyard, Political Protest, and Feminist Activism
Claire Nally (Northumbria University, UK)
Using the emergence of fourth-wave feminist campaigns online, my paper will address the importance of unauthorized sites of remembrance and memorialisation in Crossbones Graveyard, Southwark. This is a site owned by London Underground, and was a burial ground mainly for prostitutes; women and children who have become almost invisible in subsequent historical accounts. The site closed in the Victorian period, due to being 'overcharged with dead'. Whilst increased visibility of Crossbones in popular culture has raised the profile of the site, no academic study of the nexus of activism, women's rights, neo-Victorian historical recovery, and cultural memory has yet been undertaken. Several campaigners, including the playwright John Constable, author of The Southwark Mysteries (1999) and the International Union of Sex Workers, have constructed a shrine to the lost women of history in this forgotten graveyard. Thus as Rita Sakr (2013) has suggested, such sites of cultural memory need to be studied to account for 'the multiple references of communal belonging, marginality as a major constituent of community, and the occasional character of communal bonds occurring in monumental space.'
"There is a joke going round about Islington Main Colliery": London and the Miners Strike, 1984-5
Diarmaid Kelliher (University of Glasgow, UK)
In March 1984 over 150,000 British miners went on strike to protest against plans for widespread closures in the industry. Alongside the industrial struggle developed a solidarity movement throughout the country, including in areas far from the traditional coal mining heartlands. This paper will look at the diverse support movement in London during the year, which alongside the mainstream organisations of the labour movement included lesbian and gay, feminist, and black support groups. While fundraising was a central task, protest took a variety of forms: picket lines at power stations and elsewhere, marches through the centre of London, and industrial action for example. Looking at this activism, I will develop the limited historiography on the support movement for the strike (Beynon 1985; Samuel 1986) and engage with recent discussions within geography on the nature of solidarity (Brown and Yaffe 2014; Featherstone 2012). From Londoners supporting the miners during the lock-out in 1926, to the miners joining the Grunwick picket lines in the late 1970s, I will look at the way these histories of reciprocal solidarity between London and the coalfields were invoked to mobilise support in 1984-5.