On the blockade: geographies of circulation and struggle (I): Up against the state

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (MDT)
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Kai Bosworth, Charmaine Chua
Chairs: Kai Bosworth


Alongside the riot and the occupation, perhaps the most widespread tactic under use is once again the blockade. Attempts by workers and activists to prevent ecological destruction, fossil fuel infrastructure, global supply chains, and the everyday circulation of capital pepper the news around the world. Over twenty years ago, Nicholas Blomley began his formative analysis of First Nations blockades in Canada by suggesting that the “very frequency and predictability” might explain “why blockades have not received much scholarly attention as a political phenomenon” (Blomley 1996, 5). Today, we suspect a rich intellectual environment currently exists for reopening empirical and theoretical questions concerning political blockades. This includes a range of scholarship in infrastructure studies (Kallianos 2018), logistics and counterlogistics (Bernes 2013, Chua, Danyluk et al, 2018), urban geography (Maharawal 2017, Vizcarra and Araiza Kokinis 2014), contemporary environmentalism (Klein 2014) and spaces of contentious politics (Leitner et. al. 2008, Routledge 2017, Wainwright and Robertson 2003).

Analyses focused on blockades have frequently (and sometimes romantically) examined their role as moments of negation or disruption that mount a challenge to the circulation of contemporary capitalism (Clover 2016). In efforts to complicate this narrative, some have rightly pointed out that disruption can at times benefit the price-setting of corporations and the logic of capitalism more generally (Mitchell 2013). On the other hand, others caution that as the blockade has become a critical tool to assert collective power through the sovereignty of the people or indigenous jurisdiction, the state has securitized flows of commodities through an increasing emphasis on critical infrastructure (Pasternak and Dafnos 2018), perhaps suggesting greater attention to the forms of state violence and repression. Yet, even if blockades are sometimes less effective than we might hope, they remain fertile sites for expressing a richness of social subjectivities, forms of contestation, spaces of social reproduction, and deterritorializations and reterritorializations of capital and state space. As Deborah Cowen puts it, “It is perhaps on the blockade [where] alternative relations of care and provision – alternative logistics – anchored in relations of reciprocity and solidarity can emerge” (Cowen 2017). At stake in analyses of the blockade might thus be efforts to foreground “shared capacities to survive immiserating processes and to fight back against violent infrastructures” (Armstrong-Price 2015, 191).

This session will present a rich reading of contemporary or historical blockades as protest tactics, spaces of disruption, and social (re)productions of subjects and worlds, seeking to theorize their situation within a broader and complex global political economy riven by power geometries of state and capital, while at the same time keeping alive their potential to affirm worlds otherwise. What can we learn about space, politics, and capital from blockades? How do they alert us to arenas of struggle for lives and livelihoods absent from traditional analyses of capitalism, social protest, or infrastructural flow? If global supply chains and logistics management has reshaped the spatialities of capitalism, are new points of vulnerability - chokepoints - created which might be pressured for political justice?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Johan Pries*, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Andrés Brink Pinto, Lund University, Reinventing the antifascist blockade: notes on the spatial politics of Scandinavian antifascism 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Julie Cidell*, University of Illinois, Backlash to the Blockade: Legislative Responses to Freeway Protests in the U.S. 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Sasha Davis*, Keene State College, Blockades, occupations, and reorientations: chasing alternative political assemblages in the Pacific 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Satya Savitzky*, University of Saint Andrews, ‘Whose streets?’ Highway blockades, vehicle ramming attacks and the 2017 Charlottesville protest 20 9:00 AM
Presenter Theo LeQuesne*, UC Santa Barbara, Power Mapping in Blockadia: the strategic efficacy of blockades in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground 20 9:20 AM

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