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Hotel geopolitics: a research agenda

Our new article Hotel geopolitics: a research agenda has just been published in the journal Geopolitics.

Its genesis lies in the session Hotels: political geographical investigations that Sara organised with Klaus Dodds at the 2010 RGS-IBG annual conference (full session details in the downloadable conference booklet). Sara then developed the research into hotels with a British Academy-funded project and affiliated website and art exhibition on the histories of cosmopolitanism and conflict in the former hotel district of Beirut. The new article, linking Adam’s previous research on political geographies of hospitality to Sara’s work on hotels (there is also a related Facebook page), sets the agenda for studying hotels as geopolitical sites. Further work on specific hotels case studies stemming from the same RGS-IBG conference session has been published by Ruth Craggs, Uma Kothari and by Lisa Smirl. This article is dedicated to Lisa’s memory.

Europa Hotel Belfast - The Clinton Suite. Source: Navjot Singh, February 19, 2013. Under creative commons license.

Europa Hotel Belfast – The Clinton Suite. Source: Navjot Singh, February 19, 2013. Under creative commons license.


Regenerating Political Geography Workshop — University of Birmingham June 24th 2015

Alex Jeffrey reflects on the day he spent at the PolGRG workshop in Birmingham, with insights from yesterday’s presentations.


I have spent the day at the Political Geography Research Group Workshop at the University of Birmingham, organised by Adam Ramadan and Sara Fregonese. This is an (almost) annual event bringing together postgraduates, post-docs and lecturers to think about current research and teaching in the field of political geography. This year the workshop was titled ‘Regenerating Political Geography’ and was focusing on emerging research strands while also giving the requisite tools to a new generation of political geographers to embark on the next stage of their career. I was sorry to miss the second day (where Alan Ingram and Fiona McConnell were talking on teaching, while Jason Dittmer and Sara Fregonese gave presentations on the job market).

The morning paper session provided an excellent snapshot of some emerging research in political geography. Arshad Isakajee and Thom Davies (both at Birmingham) gave a vibrant and insightful talk exploring refugee experience…

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PolGRG Workshop: 24-25 June 2015 – Full program

Registration for the PolGRG workshop is now closed, but you might want to take a look at the full workshop programme and follow us on Twitter on #PolGRGBham

Day 1

10 Registration and coffee

10:45 Welcome and introduction

11 New research in Political Geography I
Christina Oelgemoller (Loughborough University)
Transit space – creative space?

Jonathan Rokem (The Bartlett, UCL)
Contested urbanism – learning from Stockholm and Jerusalem

Arshad Isakjee & Thom Davies (University of Birmingham)
‘This is not France, this is the Jungle’: initial reflections from ongoing research in the new refugee camp in Calais.

Sam Strong (University of Cambridge)
Shameful subsistence? The everyday politics of the food bank

12:30 Lunch

1:30 Emerging research directions – roundtable
Fiona McConnell (University of Oxford)
Alex Jeffrey (University of Cambridge)
James Sidaway (National University of Singapore)

3 Coffee

3:30 Publishing in Political Geography
James Sidaway (National University of Singapore)
Jo Sharp (University of Glasgow)

6:30 Dinner

Day 2

9:30 Teaching Political Geography
Alan Ingram (UCL)
Julian Clark (University of Birmingham)
Fiona McConnell (University of Oxford)

10:30 Coffee

11 The job market
Jason Dittmer (UCL)
Sara Fregonese (University of Birmingham)

12Lunch and PolGRG AGM

1:30 New research in Political Geography II
Rosanna White (Royal Holloway University of London)
Ceremonies of possession: performing science and sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic.

Krithika Srinivasan (University of Exeter)
The Animal Question

Michael Laiho (Durham University)
Energy and climate policy-making in the EU with regard to discourses of carbon geographies as ‘Arctic  problems’

Joe Thorogood (UCL)
Geopolitics, assemblage and the war on drugs: the changing dynamics of opioid consumption

3 Coffee

3:30  Research funding
Jo Sharp (University of Glasgow)
Nick Gill (University of Exeter)

4:30 Final discussion and wrap-up

5 Workshop close

PolGRG Workshop: 24-25 June 2015

Political Geography Research Group

Regenerating Political Geography

The Political Geography Research Group is holding a two-day workshop on Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 June 2015 at the University of Birmingham. The theme is ‘Regenerating Political Geography’, and will hold a dual focus on new and emerging research directions that regenerate the sub-discipline, and career progression for postgraduate and early career scholars who will be the next generation of political geographers.

The event is open to all those with an interest in political geography. Alongside leading scholars in the field, we especially hope that many postgraduates and early career scholars will attend. The workshop will include:

  • A roundtable on emerging research directions;
  • Research presentations by postgraduates and early career scholars;
  • Short presentations and discussion on political geography teaching;
  • Expert-led sessions on publishing, funding and the job market

We would welcome contributions to any of these sessions. In particular, we invite abstracts for research presentations (20…

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“The Radicals’ City” book interview by Jadaliyya Cities

While I wait for some reviews of the new book to come out, last week the independent ezine Jadaliyya – run by the Arab Studies Institute – published an interview about The Radicals’ City. It contains a few insights about the book, about its connections to my current research, as well as an excerpt from the Belfast case.  It was a nice opportunity to contribute to the “Cities” page of Jadaliyya, which – quoting from their website – is “promoting critical understandings and investigations of urban life and space” in the Middle East.

You can read the interview here: enjoy!

New Texts Out Now: Ralf Brand and Sara Fregonese, The Radicals’ City: Urban Environment, Polarization, Cohesion.

Sara Fregonese

Sara Fregonese, Waiting for the spillover. Why reinforcing borders won’t strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty and keep it out of conflict.

I wrote a piece for the journal EPD: Society and Space open site about UK aid and the current situation in Lebanon. Here are the main points:
– Cities, not borders, is where Lebanon’s sovereignty is at stake.
– We need to account for Lebanon’s hybrid sovereign formations.
– UK aid needs to move beyond quick-fixes and tackle Lebanon’s problematic relationship between the regular army and Hezbollah and the monopoly of political violence.

Safe bombs and refusing pilots

In his blog, Derek Gregory reflects on his experience of Beirut in 2006, bombing from the air, acts of refusal to bomb, and the connections of one particular refusal with the artwork of Akram Zaatari.

geographical imaginations

lebanon_map_jul12-Aug06My first attempt to think through the histories and geographies of bombing from the air was, appropriately enough, a plenary address to the Arab World Geographerconference in Beirut in 2006 – a meeting which had had to be postponed until December as a result of Israel’s summer-long attack on Lebanon.  Registrations fell away, especially from the United States and the U.K., but we had a wonderfully lively meeting.

I eventually turned my presentation – which, under the title “The death of the civilian”, developed the twin genealogies of the target and the civilian to address Israel’s bombing of southern Lebanon and Beirut – into an essay for the journal: “In another time zone, the bombs fall unsafely: Targets, civilians and late modern war”(published in 2007: see DOWNLOADS tab).

I began like this:

My title comes from a poem by Blake Morrison, ‘Stop’, which was reprinted in…

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Bring in the thugs. Mediterranean sovereignty in times of uprising.

While the impact of popular uprisings on Mediterranean international relations is crucial, we must not overlook the important rearrangements in domestic sovereignty that are happening within different subnational contexts. The domestic use of political violence to manage civil dissent – last but not least across Turkish cities of Izmir and now Istanbul – is increasingly characterised by hybrid configurations of state and irregular non-state actors.

Renegotiating what constitutes legitimate or illegitimate violence is a common dynamic of state formation[1]. In post-civil war Lebanon, for example, the numerous disbanded militias (with the exception of Hezbollah) were re-absorbed into the newly reformed Lebanese army. In Italy, the Carabinieri went from being a royal police force during the Savoy kingdom, to anti-opposition force during Fascism; they were then disbanded once some of its ranks joined the irregular partisan resistance and were finally re-embedded in the armed forces of the Republic. Irregular armed forces and their role in politics and state formation, a volume edited by Diane Davis and Anthony Pereira, illustrates these dynamics through historical and contemporary examples spanning Greece, Colombia, France and Vietnam.

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The hybridisation between state-sanctioned and irregular violence in the contemporary Mediterranean is, however, distinctive for the crucial questions it poses about the state of democracy in the area. The appearance of government-sponsored thugs in Greece, Egypt, Syria and Turkey shows similarities in the management of internal dissent that are shrinking accepted perceptions of a politico-cultural distance between democratic (EU)rope and authoritarian Arab Mediterranean.

Hybrid sovereignty is a type of control of territory and of political violence in which the state has no monopoly over either. The state can still be present, but classic dichotomies between state and nonstate, official and unofficial, legitimate and irregular are blurred. Cairo and Athens are two cities where, during and in the aftermath of protest, hybrid sovereignty is particularly apparent as the state delegates its monopoly of legitimate political violence to metamorphic nonstate actors. These, depending on the situation on the ground, disguise themselves as plain- clothes police, protesters or other agent provocateurs paid either by the state itself or by legitimate political actors. In Greece – the boundary between state-sanctioned and irregular violence has become particularly blurred since the extremist right wing party Golden Dawn have been using violent squads across Athens since it raised in popularity in the last elections

In Cairo, Hosni Mubarak’s government has made use of baltaghiye squads to curb the revolutionary movement encamped at Tahrir Square in early 2011. Baltaghiye is not a new violent actor in Egypt. In Arabic it means “hatchet men” and indicates “thugs” or “gangs” hired by the regime to attack political targets or exercise coercion in Cairo’s popular quarters: collecting protection money, controlling access to neighbourhoods, confiscating property. Since the 1980s, the regime outsourced baltaghiye brutality against protesters and detainees. Paul Amar[2] notes how the regime used baltaghiye post 9-11 to suppress or wreak havoc during protests. This shifted perceptions of the protester to that a masculine, islamist radical, thus reinforcing post-9/11 Western geopolitical fears and repositioning the role of the Egyptian regime as the actor keeping religious extremists at bay.

During the 2011 uprising, the wide but still tacit links between baltaghiye and the state became blatant. From 28 February, at the start of Mubarak’s demise, the police officially retreated from the streets of Cairo leaving the army in charge of maintaining the status quo[3]. What we then saw in Cairo was a clear delegation of state-sanctioned coercion from the uniformed police to the armed militias, who acted either as plain clothes police or as pro-regime protestors – famously charging the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square riding camels and horses.

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 22.19.37

Athens is showing a similar outsourcing of coercion from the Greek police to what in Greek is known generically as kukulofori (hooded thugs/hooligans). The sentence Kukulofori ke astinomiki, mia parea (hooded thugs and cops are as one) has become common in protests. Post-dictatorship Greece is knowingly characterised by a constellation of both far left and far right violent political movements. But the situation has radicalised in the light of Greece’s soaring social inequalities. The soaring presence of vigilantes became clear in late 2008, during the protests following the killing of teenager Alexis Grigoropolous by the police in central Athens. While protests took place in the wide streets surrounding Syntagma square, in the side streets kukulofori holding sticks were filmed convening with the police after confronting protesters and before going back to confront them again[3]. As protest have spread in Athens and other Greek cities since 2008, often seeing police brutality against protesters, an ambiguous relationship has now clearly developed between police and various vigilantes or agents provocateurs generally drawn from the far-right. Delegation of coercion has resulted in the frequent victimisation of immigrant communities and protesters by thugs and the heavy securitisation of portions of the city associated with their presence by the police.

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 22.08.04

With the uprisings we are witnessing an increasing number of renegotiations of the boundaries between state-sanctioned and irregular violence across the Mediterranean. While infiltrating protesters is not a new police tactic, the delegation of coercion to thugs is becoming increasingly widespread. States both within and without the EU are increasingly merging with the nonstate and outsourcing political violence and coercion for the management of internal dissent.

While the War on Terror has shaped domestic and urban security in the past decade, in the present decade uprising and protest – and the responses to these – is shaping the way domestic sovereignty is practiced on the ground.  We are seeing hybrid forms of state and non-state violence: baltaghiye, kukulufori, the Shabiha militia in Syria, the thugs that have recently appeared in the streets of Istanbul and Izmir and possibly other, less structured, groups seem to hint at a new form of state response to domestic dissent, one that is stirring the waters all across the Mediterranean.

Sara Fregonese

[1]Pereira, Anthony W. 2003. “Armed Forces, Coercive Monopolies, and Changing Patterns of State Formation and Violence.” In Irregular Armed Forces and Their Role in Politics and State Fomation, edited by Diane E Davis and Anthony W. Pereira, 387–407. Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Amar, Paul. 2011. “Turning the Gendered Politics of the Security State Inside Out?International Feminist Journal of Politics 13 (3) (September): 299–328. doi:10.1080/14616742.2011.587364.

[3] Trombetta, L. 2013. “More Than Just a Battleground: Cairo’s Urban Space During the 2011 Protests.” European Urban and Regional Studies 20 (1) (January 7): 139–144. doi:10.1177/0969776412463373.



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