‘Domesticating Geopolitics’ session report, RGS (with IBG) 2015

The Ludic Geopolitics team organised a session on ‘Domesticating Geopolitics’ at this year Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) conference (see our Call For Papers here). The session aimed at exploring notions of domestication and the intimate to understand the geopolitical.

What are the ways in which geopolitics is domesticated? And what does domesticating geopolitics mean and entail?

The two sessions gathered scholars from the disciplines of geography, international relations and education to capture practices, objects and perfomativities that contribute to the domestication, but also constitution of geopolitics.

Sean Carter (University of Exeter) opened the two sessions with our Ludic Geopolitics’s paper titled ‘Playing War: the action figure’s role in the domestic co-constitution of geopolitical cultures’. He pointed out how the notion of ‘domestic’ has a particular meaning in IR theory. Domestic is the national, the space of national community and territory. It is associated with what it is known and good as opposed to the ‘foreign’, often associated with enmity. If domestic is often associated with the state and the nation, the space of the home has only recently become part of geopolitical considerations and investigations. Relying on our domestic ethnography, Sean explained how geopolitics enters the space of the home through the HM Armed Forces military action figures, a range of military-related toys licensed by the Ministry of Defense (MOD). While it is often assumed that the outcome of playing with these military action figures is the naturalisation and sanitation of the military and its logics, our work on Ludic Geopolitics shows how play is both ‘entangled’ in contemporary and past geopolitics as well as ‘entangling’ . While it draws ideas, perfomativities and language from the geopolitical, it may also produce new geopolitical orders through play.

Related to young people and the ways in which they may be considered geopolitical actors, Kate Botterill (Newcastle University) presented a paper titled ‘Securing Disunion: Nationalism, identity and (in)security in the campaign for an independent Scotland’ on experiences of (in)security of young people from ethnic minorities in the context of the campaign for Scottish independence. The paper was co-authored with Peter Hopkins (Newcastle University), Gurchathen Sanghera (University of St. Andrews) and Rowena Arshad (The University of Edinburgh) and explored the ways in which geopolitical events (the campaign) and agendas (Scottish nationalism) shape young people’s everyday lives as they negotiate their identity (as part of an ethnic minority) and inclusion within Scottish nationalism to find their own sense of security. In doing so, they contribute to the ways in which Scottish nationalism is constructed as inclusive and multicultural.

Matthew Rech (University of Exeter) with his paper ‘Ephemera(l) geopolitics: the material cultures of British military recruitment’ looked at the ways in which militarism becomes part of the everyday through the materiality of the military recruitment. The geopolitics of recruitment enters the space of the home through objects that may be utilised or displayed for collecting purposes. As Matthew pointed out, objects are not passive but active parties in constructions. They also impinge in everyday lives as they have relevance beyond recruitment (see for instance the ‘Help for Heroes’ eggs). He finally pointed out that we should think about our domestic lives as making and remaking the geopolitical.

JJ Zhang (University of Hong Kong) presented his work on ‘Paying homage to the ‘Heavenly Mother’: intimate geopolitics of the Mazu Pilgrimage in the midst of rapprochement between China and Taiwan’. By examining the role of Mazu pilgrimage in the rapprochement between China and Taiwan, JJ explored geopolitics beyond notion of states and the role of the intimate in producing new geopolitical relations and possibilities. Tourism is a social and cultural phenomenon and a practice that allows people to socialise beyond states’ rivalries. Here geopolitics is domesticated through the intimate, able to connect people and spaces that in other geopolitical narratives are not normally friendly and/or connected to each other.

In his paper ‘The everyday geopolitics of Space Shuttle mission patches’, Andrew Maclaren (University of Aberdeen) talked about the ways in which the materialities of space missions (the mission patches) reproduce and reify national imaginations in different moments of history: the age of comptetition (1981-1991), the age of cooperation (1991-1999) and the age of internationalism (1999-2011). As the iconography of the mission patches encoded geopolitical narratives, these materialities become ‘banal reminders of geopolitical conflict, cooperation and internationalism’.

With her paper ‘Soldiers’ bodies, authority and the militarisation of everyday life’, Leila Dawney (University of Brighton) discussed the ways in which the wounded or dead bodies of soldiers become the means through which ideas of nationhood are produced as affect is directed and moved. Soldiers are made victims but heroes at the same time. As suffering is conveyed in a way in which the government is never been seen as responsible for injuries or death, affective practices and perfomances create forms of collective attachment.

Jo Little (University of Exeter) presented a paper on ‘Violence, the body and the spaces of intimate terrorism’. Unsettling the differences between the intimate and the global, she looked at the ways in which intimate terrorism operates on the body and the mind of the victim of domestic violence. By looking at the ways in which domestic violence is associated to terrorism, Jo unhinges the boundaries between what is commonly understood as domestic violence (physical violence and signs on the body) and what is rarely considered as such (the emotional violence, strategies of control and entrapment). In so doing, she argues that ‘intimate terrorism’ and practices of surveillance, normally used in a military context, are adopted in the space of the home as women are prevented from working, socialising or going out to be better controlled. As global violence such as terrorism and surveillance help explain dynamics taking place in the space of the home, domestic violence becomes a form of warfare.

Fiona McConnell (University of Oxford) examined diplomats of de facto states, governments-in-exile and minority community and their mimicry of the language and performativities of diplomacy in order to represent their communities and interests within diplomatic institutions. She pointed out that while we may be aware of a set of formal procedures, diplomacy is also made up of everyday routines and activities. Through their bodily comportments and language, these diplomats mimic and perform conventions of diplomatic decorum. Fiona argues that the resulting embodied performances blur the boundaries between the formal and informal and, as a consequence, the boundary between diplomacy and political activism.

Issie MacPhail (University of the Highlands and Islands) presented a paper on ‘Orienteering inside ‘The Idea of North’: aesthetic escape routes and Spivakian speech acts’. Drawing on artist Shona Illingworth’s work, Issie examined the ways in which senses, emotions and an aesthesis of sound connect the local ‘peace-time’ of the northern lands of Britain with the global Cold War context. In the vicinity of the Cape Wrath Bombardment Range – British and NATO forces’ training centre – war sounds are heard from the space of the home. In such instances geopolitics affects dwellers of the area and create a ‘distinctive topology of threat’ which is international and domestic at the same time.

From these papers it seems that domesticating geopolitics means different things. It could be about rendering something familiar and informal as in the case of Fiona’s paper on the mimicry of a performative diplomacy which includes everyday routines and gestures. Domesticating geopolitics also stands for bringing home global security and insecurity practices as Jo argued in her paper on the ways in which terrorism and surveillance are part of domestic violence. But domesticating is also more than the sanitation of geopolitics. It is not only about bringing the geopolitical in the space of the home or the intimate. As if on a horizontal panel, the intimate, the space of the home and the global intertwine and actively feed each other in the co-constitution of the geopolitical through play (our paper on Playing War in the space of the home), through the negotiation of identity and fears (Kate’s paper on young people from minority groups and their co-constitution of Scottish nationalism), through military objects (Matthew’s paper on recruitment events and objects, and Andrew’s paper on mission patches and the ways in which they make and remake the geopolitical), through pilgrimage practices (JJ’s paper on the Mazu pilgrimage connecting different and hostile communities), through the body (Leila’s paper on soldiers’ wounded bodies, the production of a collective attachment and nationhood), and an aesthesis of sound (Issie’s paper on the ways in which senses and emotions connect the home to the international). Domesticating, therefore, is not only about the ‘reception’ and sanitation of broader geopolitical narratives. As these papers show, domesticating is very much an active participation in the co-production of the geopolitical.

Abstracts of papers could be read here.


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