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Looking Forward by Looking Back: May Day Protests in London and the Strategic Significance of the Urban

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Abstract:

This paper deals with the question of how oppositional movements can adapt their protest strategies to meet recent socio-spatial transformations. The work of Lefebvre provides several clues as to how an alternative discourse and appropriation of space could be incorporated in such protest strategies. One of the central themes in Lefebvre's work is that the appearances, forms and functions of urban space are constitutive elements of contemporary capitalism and thus that an alternative narrative of urban space can challenge or undermine dominant modes of thinking. What exactly constitutes the “right” kind of alternative discourse or narrative is a matter of both theoretical and practical consideration. The paper analyses one case: the May Day protests in London in 2001, in which a protest group, the Wombles, managed to integrate theoretical insights into their discourse and practice in a highly innovative manner. Since cities, and global cities in particular, play an ever more important role in maintaining the consumption as well as production practices of global capitalism; they potentially constitute local sites where global processes can be identified and criticised. It is shown that the Wombles effectively made use of these possibilities and appropriated the symbolic resources concentrated in London to exercise a “lived critique” of global capitalism. Since the Wombles capitalised on trends that have not yet ended, their strategies show a way forward for future anti-capitalist protests.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2004.00444.x

Affiliations: Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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