The geopolitics of spectacle: Space, synecdoche, and the new capitals of Asia

Authors: Natalie Koch*, Syracuse University
Topics: Political Geography, Urban Geography, Geographic Theory
Keywords: geopolitics, spectacle, urban geography, political geography, governmentality, spatial imaginaries
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Spectacle has not been extensively theorized by geographers, despite their longstanding interest in its role in political, cultural, and urban geography. Focusing on statist spectacle, I outline a geographic approach that treats it as a political technology and asks: who uses it, for whom, and when and where? To move beyond the prevailing “then and there” approach to spectacle, I argue for a grounded approach to asking “when and where” spectacle unfolds that also accounts for the unspectacular spaces, effects, and experiences that represent spectacle’s Others. Doing so effectively entails examining the deeply contextual spatial imaginaries that are required to give spectacle meaning. The trope of synecdoche, I suggest, is key to understanding the logic of spectacular urbanism. Through a cross-regional empirical study of recent capital city development schemes in Central Asia (Astana, Baku, Ashgabat), the Arabian Peninsula (Abu Dhabi, Doha), and East Asia (Naypyidaw, Bandar Seri Begawan), I call for more attention to the role of spatial metaphors and geopolitical imaginaries, which underpin the logic of spectacular urbanism. Illustrating how spectacular capital cities only make sense to people who have learned to think synecdochically about the capital standing for the entire country, I also show how synecdoche diverts attention from the multiple ways that spectacle’s unspectacular Others are expressed and scaled in each region.

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