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Ethnography, space and politics: interrogating the process of protest in the Tibetan Freedom Movement

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This paper examines the ability of ethnographic research methods to effectively study spatially extensive political activity. It argues that traditional ethnographic methods of sustained engagement with spatially bounded sites are not adequately suited to dealing with contemporary spatially extensive political movements. It argues that contemporary attempts to bridge this impasse have emphasised a dichotomy between global and local that ignores the connections, disconnections and process that occur between places. The paper argues for a critical ethnography that is based on a relational understanding of space emphasising Gillian Hart's conception of the interconnected nature of the ‘site’. Taking a single demonstration against the Beijing 2008 Olympics conducted by UK-based Tibet supporters, it examines how the site of protest was closely linked to a variety of other places. Interrogating the processes of connection and disconnection brought about through the protest creates an ethnographic account that, while partial, develops an engagement with the heterogeneity of contemporary political action.
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Keywords: Tibet; ethnography; networks; politics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZT, Email:

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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