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Keywords:

  • affect;
  • rhythm;
  • emotion;
  • climate change;
  • Climate Camp;
  • Australia

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Questions of bodies and embodiment are a critical focus for geographers. In this paper we advance discussion of the mobilisation of bodies that investigates the interconnections between the visceral and discursive, through paying attention to the affordances of sound. We draw on our ethnographic research of the Climate Camp parade held during October 2009 in Helensburgh, New South Wales, Australia. Using feminist theory and visceral understandings of socio-political life, we explore sounds to illustrate how people's beliefs about climate change are mobilised at this parade. We argue that visceral experiences of the rhythmic affordances of sounds—flow, pulse and beat—provide us insights as to how people are mobilised into action. Our results explore bodily judgements of sounds to illustrate how a visceral approach can help to mobilise bodies in ways that can both upset, and reproduce, particular beliefs, subjects and places.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Rhythms have already been acknowledged as political. For Lefebvre (2004), tracing the transition from linear “tick-tock” time to the digital clock recognises the centrality of rhythm. He concluded that each new pattern of capitalist organisation requires a commanding rhythm to achieve dominance. Lefebvre (2004:14) argues that: “Objectively, for there to be change, a social group, a class or a caste must intervene by imprinting a rhythm on an era, be it through force or an insinuating manner”. Away from this general politicisation of rhythms, Lefebvre (2004) also recognised the politics operating as the social world imposes its culturally sanctioned rhythms as structures, laws, norms and bodily experiences. Lefebvre's (2004) concept of “dressage” draws on Foucauldian notions of discipline and control, recognising rhythms as offering one explanation as to how the social world imposes its structures, “truths” and “norms” in and on the body—through “respiration, the heart, hunger, thirst” (2004:8). Lefebvre (2004) concurred that a disembodied grasp of rhythms is impossible. Yet, as Simpson (2008) argued in “Lefebvre's Rythmanalytical Project we are mostly just looking at the body and how it is being acted upon by societal forces, rather than considering the visceral, elusory nature of the body itself” (2008:824; emphasis in original). Similarly, Edensor (2010) noted there is a need to conceptualise the body's capacity to affect and be affected by rhythms. Edensor goes on to argue that “the entangling rhythms that circulate in and outside the body also draw attention to the corporeal capacities to sense rhythm, sensations that organise the subjective and cultural experience of place” (2010:5). Edensor appreciates the inter-relatedness of power, rhythm, subjectivity and place. Through our focus on sound, this paper takes up the call to conceptualise rhythmic sounds as offering a strategic starting point to understand power, subjectivity and place.

In this paper we pay specific attention to how people can be moved or mobilised by the rhythmic affordances of sound—flow, pulse and beat—to explore the visceral politics of a parade. Following Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy (2008:462) visceral politics involves a “move towards a radically relational view of the world, in which structural modes of critique are brought together with an appreciation of chaotic, unstructured ways in which bodily intensities unfold in the production of everyday life”. We argue that the ways in which the body registers the affordances of sound provides clues as to how the politics of climate change unfolds in situ, by helping (co)constitute subject and place. We explore ways in which dominant discourses of climate change, coal and activists are interwoven with the affective affordances of sound that pulse and surge in between and through bodies and spaces—mediating the types of communication that take place between people. In doing so, we further an argument that recognises the centrality of bodily sensations in mobilising people—as either individuals or collectives—within activism (Brown and Pickerill 2009; Hayes-Conroy and Martin 2010).

To this end, the article is divided into four sections. We begin by reviewing existing scholarship to establish a background on the ways in which bodies are examined in relation to activism. Next, we provide an alternative perspective through our focus on the visceral affects of sounds. We draw on Probyn's (2000) Deleuzian reading of bodies and space to help us think about how feminist theory might conceptualise a visceral politics of sound. We then introduce the Climate Camp, held during October 2009 in Helensburgh, New South Wales. Next we detail our methods to trace the bodily judgements of sounds. We then focus on three moments within the parade to illustrate how bodily judgements of the rhythmic affordances of sound have the potential to increase our understanding of how people are mobilised through the inter-relatedness of subjectivity, sound and place. The article concludes by considering the importance of a visceral politics of sound in radical geography.

Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Foucault's writings offer an account of how mobilisation and political action may operate in everyday life—by emphasising how knowledge about the world is constantly produced within discourse. Rather than individuals being robbed of agency within discursive frames, Sharp et al. (2000) pointed to the creative potential that exists within the ongoing process of creating and maintaining “truths”, “norms” and social relationships. As Sharp et al. (2000:19) explain, this process contains a sense of agency and political will, given that power is conceptualised as a:

thoroughly entangled bundle of exchanges dispersed ‘everywhere’ through society, as comprising a ‘micro-physical’ or ‘capillary’ geography of linkages, intensities and frictions, and as thereby not being straightforwardly in the ‘service” of any one set of peoples, institutions or movements.

However, geographers from a number of sub-disciplines have responded to the work of Foucault, reacting especially to his inclination to reproduce mind/body dualisms. Queer, feminists and non-representational theorists have begun to rethink the importance of the materiality of bodies in mobilising individuals, social movements and trans-local networks—including molecules, cells, chemicals, neurotransmitters, touch, taste, aroma and sight. For instance, Hynes and Sharpe (2009) employ non-representational theory (NRT) to draw our attention to the significance of affective ties at the Seattle anti-globalisation protests in November 1999. This attention to affective ties in and through moments of proximity or contact between human and non-human bodies challenges geographers to conceive a realm of political subjectivity and mobilisation outside discursive modes of interaction. As Massumi (2002:9) states, affective forces enable a “sociality without determinate borders”. Affective relations have the capacity momentarily to mobilise people together to forge a collective, as demonstrated by the euphoria of an election win—or alternatively, constrain the mobility of people—as demonstrated by the restrictive mobility of fearful bodies. Affective intensities have forced a rethinking of political subjectivity as not being reducible to, or the product of, particular individuals or groups consciously representing or contesting place. The way in which political agendas comes to be viscerally experienced, and thus activate or deactivate participants, is not conceptualised as a simple mapping of conscious action on to subjects. Instead, attention is given to bodily registers, the assemblages involved, and the capacity of co-present bodies to affect and be affected.

Feminist geographers are critical of NRT, particularly the trends to depersonalise dimensions of affect and emotion; as it overlooks the physical attributes of a body; omits the situated qualities of affect; and disregards the interplay between emotions and affect and the interrelationships between the discursive and the affective realms (Colls 2012). Indeed, much work on emotions and activism in geography has illustrated the importance of the personal. For example, building on the work of the sociologist Jasper (1998) and anthropologist Juris (2008), Pulido (2003) and Routledge (2012) provide personal accounts to investigate emotions as an activating force in social movements. Similarly, Bosco (2007) and Brown and Pickerill (2009) explore narratives of emotional labour to illustrate how personal (dis)connections are forged within social movements—including loss, anger, rage and resentment.

Following the lead of feminist geographers Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy (2008), who build on Probyn's (2000) work, we adopt a visceral approach to investigate further the materiality of the body to better understand how people are mobilised into action. We use the word “visceral” to denote the bodily experiences or judgements—that may be narrated as moods, emotions or sensations—of our sensory interactions with contexts which are fashioned by the interplay of the discursive and material. Activism involves not only developing an understanding of different discursive regimes, but equally that of the visceral realm. Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy (2008:469; emphasis in original) argue that: “addressing the visceral realm—and hence the catalytic potential of bodily sensations—has the potential to increase political understandings of how people can be moved or mobilised either as individuals or as groups of social actor”. Thinking about sound as a mechanism for visceral arousal means thinking about how the sensuous body is embedded in social, cultural and spatial relationships. In this paper we focus on the rhythmic qualities of sounds as a mechanism for addressing the visceral realm. Such a focus is helpful because it facilitates rethinking sounds through its registration as cognitive modes and/or bodily sensations.

Drawing on scientists and social scientists, we argue that the rhythmic affordances of sound illustrate the viscerality of everyday life. The work of neurobiologists (see Malloch 2005), psychologists (see Trevarthen 1999), and cognitive scientists (see Benzon 2001) explains how the body has a biologically innate sense of pulse within which communication occurs—more usually described in the medical literature in terms of hormones and electric signals. Whereas, the works of many music therapists (Ansdell 2004), musicologists (Keil and Feld 1994) and professional musicians (Monson 1996) discuss the capacity of the body to absorb the rhythmic qualities of music as a way of placing oneself in relation to others. As Keil and Feld (1994:167) suggest, habitualised rhythm operates to sustain a psychological understanding of “being in the groove together”. While the sociologist DeNora (2000) posits that playing, or listening to, particular genres of music disciplines bodies in particular ways. Similarly, Mels (2004:6) discusses sonic rhythms to trace the discursive through the body, arguing that bodily judgements of particular pulses are “connected to particular discourses, geographical imaginations and modes of representation”. A visceral approach is about bodily sensations. However, it is also about relational thinking and the process of assembling and dissembling relationships and connections into a socio-spatial formation that makes sense as a coherent whole.

It is for these reasons we turned to the work of Probyn (2000), and her thinking about assemblages, because it offers possibilities to use a visceral approach to think across the physiological, psychological and sociological experience of the rhythmic affordances of sound. Working within a cultural studies paradigm, as a post-phenomenological scholar, Probyn's visceral approach is one way to conceptualise the body as actively participating in the unfolding of discursive regimes that fashion choices, subjectivities and social difference. Citing the work of French sociologist Marcel Mauss, she argues that: “[A]ll of our bodily actions are ‘connecting cogs’ within this ‘enormous psycho-sociological assemblages of series of actions’” (Mauss 1973 [1934]:74, cited in Probyn 2000:30). Following in the footsteps of Mauss' discussion of the “techniques of the body”, Probyn (2000:31–32) argues that:

The connections and interconnections of learned techniques, of imitation, and of the interplay of biological, psychological and social … allows for the past to re-enter the present, but without unilaterally determining us. The biological, psychological and the social, are constantly reworked in terms of how at any moment we live our bodies. These modes of living are temporal and spatial, highlight the adaption of learned behaviour and context … There is then an order to the assemblage, but one that, instead of predicating a ground, questions it.

Probyn puts forward assemblage thinking to help scholars think anew about the agency of the body and to appreciate ambiguity. To disrupt the mind–body dualism, she stresses the diversity of elements that comprise a body, and the various human and non-human agencies involved in making and remaking the (dis)connections between diverse things within the assemblage. She highlights bodily judgements to trouble what is knowable. While remaining cognisant of power/knowledge embedded in discourse that create social relationships, “truths” and social norms—say, in regards to the disciplinary institutional procedures of musicians or dance clubs—need not be fixed. As Probyn (2000) suggests, the possibility of unpredictable shifts in socio-spatial formations within the weight of historical trajectories of everyday life involves exploring the ambiguity of bodily judgements. Importantly, she constitutes a politics that is not of radical critique, but of sketching the possibilities for social transformation within bodily judgements to little changes and fleeting encounters that permeate the everyday.

First, following Probyn's lead, assemblage thinking opens up possibilities to consider how sound mediates the affective and emotional energies within, across and between human and non-human bodies. Here we remain mindful of the very different ideas that circulate about what is emotion, and what is affect (Massumi 2002). Again, drawing on the work of Probyn, she argues “it would be convenient to say that emotion refers to the social expression of affect, and affect in turn is the biological and physiological experience of it” (2004:28). However, as Probyn (2004) notes, such arguments are circular. Following her lead, while remaining alive to debates about the origins of emotions, we propose that bodily judgements of sounds are irreducible to either biology or culture, mind or body, inside or outside. Considering the affective qualities of sound, Saldanha argues that “music is the cultural form best suited to extract the energies already oscillating in and inbetween human bodies” (2002:58). Extending this argument from music to sound more generally, our interest lies in the way that sound may intensely connect or disconnect bodies within a constellation of trajectories or assemblages that make sense of a Climate Camp parade. Hence, bodily judgements of sounds are not simply biologically innate, nor are they only performative. Rather, the corporeal capacities to sense the affordances of sound—rhythm, melody, pitch, colour and vibrations—may help connect, or disconnect, bodies with other bodies and “entities” within sonorous assemblages, that necessitate tracing connections between bodies. Sound connects us to uneven networks of power.

Second, a visceral approach to sound does not have as its starting point a mode of identity formation founded on an essentialist understanding of an inner emotional and psychological life. Rather, a visceral approach allows us to grasp identify formation as an embodied practice; by remaining alert as to how emotions are learnt, spatial, and may stick, diversify or change over the course of a lifetime. The body's capacity to sense sounds opens up the in-between-ness of sensing and making sense. In this way, bodily judgements of sounds may give rise to moments of heightened intensities that allow people to distinguish between inner and outer selves, individual and group, us and them, here and elsewhere. Sounds may cohere subjectivities, places and a sense of “togetherness”. At the same time, the same sounds may provoke a sense of alienation because they are felt and understood as disruptive or harmful and so categorised as undesirable or noise.

Finally, sounds are not lived in isolation, but experienced through the lived context of social representations that govern how we listen and hear. As Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy (2008:467) remind us: “[I]n the visceral realm, representations affect materially”. Following this lead, the historical weight and orientation of social norms aligned to sounds become part of new intensities, memories and emotions—sounds mobilise visceral mechanisms that help particular political subjectivities to temporally fluoresce. The connection between sound and the visceral realm, we argue, is one mechanism that mobilises people for or against climate change action.

Camps for Climate Action

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

The context of our study is Camps for Climate Action (Climate Camps). Climate Camps may be considered a “convergence space” (Routledge 2003:345)—a non-capitalist, collective site united by a shared ambition to resist carbon-dependent economies through a program of education and resistance politics. The first Camp for Climate Action was held in Yorkshire, UK in 2006 and challenged the discourses and social relations surrounding carbon use. The 2006 Camp had political and emotional resonance elsewhere. Since 2006, a trans-local network has facilitated new alliances, and the organisation of Climate Camps in multiple times and places. Central to the politics of Climate Camps is the activist narrative of resistance, creativity and solidarity (see Saunders and Price 2009; Scaife 2007). Climate Camps may be conceptualised as expressions of trans-local politics built through a narrative of solidarity with globally-distributed groups via virtual networks, awareness raising, and skill- and information-sharing (see Pickerill and Chatterton 2006). How this sense of “togetherness” might actually be achieved amongst diverse social groups, once bodies are assembled, however, involves understanding much more than shared rhetoric. As we argue, bodily judgements that emerge from our sensory engagements are also significant.

The Helensburgh Camp for Climate Action 2009 was the fourth held in Australia—a per capita emissions-intensive nation. Each camp was at the site of significant carbon emissions. Helensburgh is the site of one of Australia's oldest coal mines—the Metropolitan Colliery—which produces coking coal used for steel manufacture. In Australia, the collective actions of these Climate Camps were spurred by a widening gulf between government acknowledgement of a greenhouse gas emissions crisis and the lack of serious commitment to climate action—as illustrated by the (then) Rudd Government's failure to legislate a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme—along with its failure to deliver a binding agreement at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties in late 2009. Further, Climate Camps are an attempt to disrupt discourses and practices contributing to Australia's coal dependency, both as a source of export tax revenue and in the provision of electricity (Dorsey 2007; Tarrow 1998). As Chatterton (2005) argued, Climate Camps converge on locations where carbon-intensive facilities are planned or enlarged to illustrate the contradictions between carbon-reduction policy rhetoric and ongoing emissions practice.

Climate Camps do not seek to build a permanent organisation, formulate a manifesto or have conventional representative structures and organisational coherence. Instead, each autonomous camp loosely acknowledges common ground within a trans-local climate justice solidarity network. Organisational effort for each camp draws from shared information and activity within the network. Second, each autonomous camp seeks to operate outside of capitalist ways of organising society. Therefore, Climate Camps operate on shoestring budgets and refuse any corporate or state sponsorship. On a practical level, compromises are imposed by the constant multiple negotiations between Climate Camp organisers seeking autonomy and their interactions with municipal authorities and the state. Third, the organisation of Climate Camps is guided by general principles of non-hierarchical decision-making, mutual aid and belief in the collective process. Consensus decision-making is employed to accommodate the voices of minorities and as a deliberate means of collective action. Finally, the fleeting qualities of the camps work against territorialisation of a space “out there”, external to capital relationships from which to build autonomous politics. Instead, the interstitial convergence spaces of Climate Camps are a constant interplay between autonomy and non-autonomy.

The Helensburgh Climate Camp was organised as a three-day event held during October 2009 by a loose network of Sydney and Illawarra based activists, including members of the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN), Friends of the Earth, The Socialist Alliance, Resistance, NSW Greens, Greenpeace and, Newcastle Riding Tide. The planning phase deployed consensus-based decision-making techniques. The network of activists secured permission from authorities to pitch tents on the football fields of Helensburgh Park, some 2 km from the entrance to the Metropolitan Colliery. Helensburgh was selected as the site of convergence to highlight the workings of market-based economies of coal. In 2007, environmental scientists from the Total Environment Centre (2007) provided evidence of water catchment destruction in the region that was attributed to long-wall mining practices of Peabody, a US-based transnational corporation and owner of the Metropolitan Colliery at Helensburgh. Yet, despite raising these concerns, the New South Wales Labor Government approved extending long-wall coal mining, which increased the profitable working “life” of the Metropolitan Colliery by some 20 years. For these reasons, coal mining in Helensburgh was regarded by Helensburgh Climate Camp organisers as iconic of both corporate and government abuses of power.

The parade was scheduled on Sunday morning as the key “climate action” in the three-day program. How the parade combined art, performance, activism and politics in multiple ways to promote climate action at one of Australia's oldest coal mines is illustrative of what Routledge (2012:2) named “cultural activism”. The tactic of the parade was to challenge what Pearse (2009) termed “quarry vision”—the mythology that Australia's mineral resources are its greatest asset. That is, to challenge how coal has become part of the Australian psyche through the perceived economic prosperity generated by the heritage of coal mining.

Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Growing concern with a visceral approach in feminist geography has helped shape a qualitative turn towards the researchers’ and participants’ bodies, alongside the use of semi-structured interviews, audio and video recording (Hayes-Conroy and Martin 2010; Longhurst et al., 2008). We devised a research program that in the first instance sought guidance from the organisers of Climate Camp. Next, we attended Climate Camp, in order to talk with participants and join in the parade.

The empirical data on which this paper draws builds on the substantial contributions of embodied geographies that have highlighted the importance of considering emotional and affective processes of doing research and of being researchers (Bain and Nash 2006; Longhurst et al., 2008). We employed research diaries to document what we wore, where we positioned ourselves and our own bodily reactions as researchers to the program of events, camp site and participants. We were forced to recognise our own subject positions as white Europeans with no familial connections with either coal-mining or Helensburgh. We arrived at this project seeking government action on climate change, including reductions on coal-fuelled electricity generation. Furthermore, following the advice of Longhurst et al. (2008), we used our bodies as “an instrument of research” (2008:214). Recording our visceral responses we remained mindful of the tension of always being positioned both inside and outside the rhythms being studied. Attending Climate Camp we recorded our bodily judgements of sounds, and how they triggered unease and pleasure, like and dislike, pride and shame, acceptance and oppression. The reflections were a means of keeping a record of how our bodily capacities to sense sonic rhythms triggered moments of emotional intensity through which the personal and the public, the individual and the social, indeed shape each other.

Alongside reflexive diaries, we employed our own video recordings—as well as those videos posted on websites in the public domain—as an aid to explore the visceral experiences of sound. There is growing acknowledgment of the potential of video methodologies in recording the qualitative unfolding of movements, flows, rhythms, and gestures as they happen. As Lorimer (2010) noted, video has the capability of providing “a powerful supplement to existing repertoire of more-than-representational methodologies” (Lorimer 2010:251). Heath and Hindmarsh (2002), Hansen (2008) and Simpson (2012) discuss the use of video to interpret how changing rhythmic processes shape the hourly, daily, monthly and annual dynamics of place. However, our use resonates more with Pink's (2009) discussion of “walking with video” as a multi-sensorial depiction. Pink applied video recording to access the multi-sensory, material and meaningful worlds of research participants by asking them to guide her around a particular locality. In our case, we circulated through the parade, walking with and amongst those people seeking climate action. Likewise, our application draws on Laurier et al's (2008), Simpson's (2011) and Garrett's (2011) discussion of video in geography, and its ability to trace subtle, ephemeral, non-verbal aspects of experience that may provide insights to a person's bodily judgements, such as facial expressions, eye movements, gestures and the like. Such bodily judgements may be missed by even the most attentive observer. Furthermore, video can be highly affective, inciting bodily judgements in the viewer (Lorimer 2010:239). As Lorimer (2010:239) suggests, images are “not just representational [but are] also blocks of sensation with an affective intensity”. In this project, video aided the documentation of the unfolding of bodily judgments triggered by the rhythmic affordances of sound that played out during the parade.

In terms of the analysis of the video texts, this entailed an iterative process of watching and re-watching the video footage, and comparing all this with diary notes written at the time. When viewing the video, we paid particular attention to things such as the proximity of people to others as well as recognising signs of non-verbal communication—which can include, for example, how people hold their head, their gestures, intonation and walk, and if they blush, slouch or breathe deeply. This was based on how we conceived bodies as secreting small clues about how affective relations move, connect and disconnect bodies to each other and space (Laurier et al. 2008). Our methods therefore combine bodily reflexivity and video texts to uncover senses, sensations, affect, mobility, empathy and knowing.

Neither the diary entries nor the videos should be regarded as texts from which we sought to reveal the cultural meanings that may reside in the bodies attending the parade. Rather, they were methods to explore material and sensory environments with those attending the parade. The affective relations triggered by sound that circulated, coagulated, and dissipated at the parade are difficult to elicit in academic prose. Affective relations are fleeting, emergent, contingent, and sensual apprehensions that erupt and decay. We acknowledge the limitations of our methods: written reflections and videos are fixed partial traces of an ephemeral phenomenon. We appreciate the limits in attempting to consciously document traces of the pre-cognitive (see Crang 2005; Latham 2003; Thrift 2000; Thrift and Dewsbury 2000). Following the advice of Hindmarsh et al. (2010) we have made the videos on which the analysis is based available online, to enable fellow scholars to form an independent judgement.

To investigate the visceral politics of sound our analysis examines three moments from the parade. The first moment from the start of the parade foregrounds how the rhythmic affordances of percussive drumming and singing help mobilise bodies for climate action by enlivening discourses of climate science, renewable energies and coal as pollution. The second moment is an account of how the rhythmic affordances of the parade mobilised bodies against climate action by making felt the discourses that constitute coal in terms of community, heritage and employment futures in Helensburgh. Viscerally primed to the sounds of a coal town, we investigate how a counter-demonstration mobilised pride to promote and stabilise the virtues of coal mining. The third moment investigates an instance at the end of the parade, when shame became mobilised amongst bodies viscerally primed for identification with coal, raising questions over social responsibilities for climate action.

Capacities to Embody Climate Action

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

First Moment: Mobilising Bodies for Climate Action

My heart is racing, and my hands are sweaty. I cannot distinguish if it is because of having just listened to the account of increasing levels of carbon emissions, the police presence, or my anticipations of the start of the parade. Gathered in Charles Harper Park [Helensburgh], I see representatives from a diversity of political and environmental organisations including Rivers S.O.S., The Greens and The Socialist Alliance. I see school-aged children and adults being grouped by those organising to lead the parade carrying a banner emblazoned with the slogan—“Closed for Climate Justice”. The parade has started. People fall in line behind with an array of mostly hand-written banners that announce: “Climate Justice Now”, “Catchment Protection Not Coal”, “Solar or Wind, Yes we can!” “H2O not CO2” “It's time to phase out coal power”, “Water is more precious than coal”, and props including blue wigs, colourful hats, lanterns, blow-up penguins, home-made wind turbines and flags. Marchers flow past the legacies of the coal industry scattered through Charles Harper Park—plaques, statues and heritage items. Leaving the park, marchers find themselves confronted by a barrage of photographers and camera crews. A police officer on a motorbike rides ahead of the marchers(Research diary entry, first author, 11 am, 11 October 2009).

This account reveals how the mobilisation of people for climate change is not merely ideological, but is also visceral. The volume, tempo and rhythm of the speeches operate as a mechanism of creating some sense of temporal and spatial order and orientation at the start of the parade; separating those walking for climate action from the police, onlookers and the media. The sensory stimulation of the speeches organised by Climate Camp in Charles Harper Park work to help unite and mobilise those bodies gathered for climate action. Ways in which the subjects gathered to walk for climate action listened to and heard the spokespersons were linked to the ideas of sustainability and environmental justice displayed on their banners. The listening pleasures or displeasures provided by rhythmic affordances of the speeches, along with applause and cheers, were a vital part of mobilising or alienating bodies to join the parade. The sounds of cheers and applause rippling through the crowd penetrated bodies, viscerally connecting or disconnecting people with the parade.

The rhythmic affordances of music heightened the affective relations at the start of the parade. Some bodies “made do” (de Certeau 1984) with pots and pans as “cobbled- together” drums. Moreover, it was the experiential practices and performativities of sensing the rhythms of clashing pots and pans that were an integral part of ordering and mobilising bodies for climate action (Figure 1). At the start of the parade, the percussive rhythms of pots and pans—what E.P. Thompson (1992) calls “rough music”, disturbs the affective relations that emanate from the sounds of police sirens, onlookers and even wind moving through the trees. The streets of Helensburgh were temporarily transformed by the rough music generating “links, stoppages, bolts and rivets to the existing architecture of time and space” (LaBelle 2008:190). Instead, it was the percussive rhythms of pots and pans that became an impressionable force. Like Brown and Pickerill's (2009) discussion of the samba band at the anti-war demonstrations in London, latching onto a particular beat played on cooking pots aligned the body with a self-defined choreography. Mindful of the multiple restrictions of where those walking in the parade could go, what caught our attention was how musical rhythms forged an “ordering” as spoken by the rough drummers. The improvised marching band of camping pots provided a regular tempo that provided spatial direction and bodily rhythm that were simultaneously inside and outside the walking bodies. A similar point is made by Mowitt (2002) who also argues that drumming techniques and drums bring an ordering to bodies. Yet, as Mowitt (2002) argues, it is important to remain mindful that the affordances of rhythms do not compel individuals to march to that beat. Rather, the rhythmic affordances of sound can be conceived as one of a variety of modalities through which the mind, body and place become either aligned or disrupted—that may in turn be narrated a sense of placement or displacement.

image

Figure 1. Helensburgh Climate Camp parade

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Furthermore, the capacity of the body to absorb and be affected by the percussive rhythm helped to mobilise and connect at a visceral level the diverse social groups gathered to walk for climate action. The capacity of the body to be affected by the beat and to affect others compelled the gathered mass to move as one united-parade-body. Sensing the beat of the rough music provided clues to ways in which bodies within sonorous assemblages became viscerally connected through the eruption and circulation of joy.

Listening, I hear police receiving instructions from another official about the direction the parade will take exiting the park. Marchers walk out of the park to the familiar rhythm and melody of Toni Basil's song Mickey. The beat helps mobilise the crowd. Many carry pom-poms. Giggles can be heard, and smiles appear on the faces of the marchers. The beat that provides the pulse is hammered out on a range of improvised percussion instruments including camping-pots and pans. The melody is carried in the revised words that explicitly convey the displeasure about the recent New South Wales state government-endorsed expansion of the Metropolitan Coal Mine, owned by Peabody. “Oh Peabody shut the mine, you don't understand. You take out all the coal and you undermine the dam. Peabody shut the mine, you don't understand. It's mines like Peabody's. Oh, what you do buddy, do buddy. Don't break the dam buddy. Oh Peabody, you're so bad. You're so bad, you make us mad, hey Peabody, hey Peabody.” Marchers cheer at the end of the song. A trumpet sounds. A chant then begins for about two minutes. A question is posed: “What do we want?” The reply is a resounding: “Shut down the mine!” The parade flows on. Bystanders look on, silent. There is no clapping or cheering out to those in the procession as it passes along the street toward the mine entrance. Nobody tags onto the end of the parade. Equally, nobody in the parade peels off(Research diary entry, first author, 11.15 am, 11 October 2009).

How participants were immersed by the familiar beat and melody of Toni Basil's Micky, which celebrates American-style cheerleading, is an important factor mediating the flux of experiences used to mobilise bodies for climate action. Bodies in the parade were energised by how the rhythmic pulse dovetailed with the clever re-wording of the song. The video recordings show how the bodily pleasures of walking for climate action were intensified by ways in which the rhythmic affordances of music, and lyrics of a song, facilitated connections between bodies in the parade. How the visceral experiences of this song triggered affective ties is illustrated in the video by prompting involuntary smiles and giggles among participants (see People v Coal Company: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdfo7k3fh3Q). Enveloped in the entangling musical rhythms cohered a sense of becoming a climate activist, and enabled politically diverse participants a sense of “togetherness” by enabling connections between those walking in the parade. Each participant's distinct take and thoughts on activism and environmentalism were allowed to momentarily co-exist, while becoming part of an experiential flow. As Edensor (2010:74) argued: “[I]f the connection flows, you move together.” The parade moved as one body towards the coal mine entrance.

The video recordings reveal the abstract sense in which affect involves a “sense of push in the world” (Thrift 2004:64). How the body senses the rhythmic push of music may increase or decrease the capacity of bodies to be uplifted, motivated and united, through sound making and remaking possible connections between ideas, landforms, things and people that make sense of climate action.

Second Moment: Mobilising Bodies Against Climate Action

Anxiety can be sensed from some onlookers as we walk towards the coal mine entrance along suburban streets. For many of those who remain on the footpath, the parade is understood as a direct strike on future jobs in the Metropolitan Colliery. The Climate Camp parade is associated with uncertainty and disorder. I overhear one woman ask: “Are you one of them or one of us?” Another woman shouts angrily at the top of her voice: “Go the coal mine!” And yet another women exclaimed angrily: “Yuse [sic] are enemies! There are so many people's jobs here! And, yuse [sic] are coming in here!” The moment is tense. In reply, a voice from a loudspeaker mounted on top of a van asks in calming tones the question: “What are you defending today? A coal mine that pollutes the planet. Where will change come from? Where will it come from? From people standing up and speaking up for the issues of the time. That is what we are doing here today”(Research diary entry, first author, 11.34 am, 11 October 2009).

Bodily judgements of many bystanders suggest that the rhythmic pulse generated by those walking for climate action were experienced as out-of-sync with the sounds that are an integral part of sustaining their sense of connection with Helensburgh. The sounds of the parade disrupted the everyday sounds that cohered subjectivities, place and sense of “togetherness” in Helensburgh. For some residents, the visceral response to the musical rhythms of the parade intensely connected them with a constellation of ideas, people and coal that make sense of Helensburgh as a coal mining town. Sounds of the parade generated a sense of alienation because the bodily affective responses were felt and understood as disruptive. Bodily ways of judging the parade as “unacceptable” were evident in some onlookers’ tone of voice, the words used, bodily gestures, silence, stares, and anxious facial expressions. The sounds generated by the parade were understood as violating the sonic rhythms that help make sense of Helensburgh as a “coal town”. Sensing a disconnection between onlookers and those walking for climate action, a spokesperson talked in “calming” tones.

Bodies viscerally primed for identification with the sounds of Helensburgh as a coal mining town felt the sounds created by the parade as regrettable and undesirable—as noise. For some onlookers, the sounds of the Climate Camp were crucial to enlivening the discourses of climate change science that constitute greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal in terms of pollution. Unexpectedly, a group of people negatively affected by the sound of the parade attempted to stop it (Figure 2).

On the footpath across from the Metropolitan Colliery entrance, a group of young men stand next to a banner declaring: “Fuck the Greenys, burn more coal”. They start chanting repeatedly: “Fight back, when the place is under attack”. Spontaneously, the young man carrying the banner clambers onto the temporary stage set up by those seeking climate change action. I overhear one woman shout: “Go Patrick!” (research diary entry, first author, 11.36 am, 11 October 2009).

image

Figure 2. Counter-protest at the Helensburgh Climate Camp parade

Download figure to PowerPoint

What is crucial here is that the sound of the parade becomes a mixture of agitation and activity that enliven a particular politics. Dovetailing of a “local” with a coal-miner subject, disruption of the parade took life as a partisan declarations of a “love” for coal, allowing pride in Helensburgh's heritage to be mobilised as a retort to climate change action. It is the infectious affects of corporeal pride for Helensburgh understood as a coal town that tied some onlookers together. These onlookers unequivocally posit that there is nothing to be ashamed of in burning coal. As Probyn (2000:132) suggest, “pride stifles the power of our bodies to react: to be, as Deleuze puts it, a judge of ourselves”. Helensburgh, when imagined as a “coal town”, must be guarded through threats and violence against those seeking climate change action. The visceral pleasures to the rhythm, pulse and the wording of the chant, “Fight back, when the place is under attack”, heightened the affective intensities of visceral pride between those people who shared common histories with those labouring in coal mining. Visceral pride was apparent in bystanders calling out in support or clapping along to the rhythm of the chant. The visceral pride to the sounds of chanting voices became a mode of political action through mobilising a sense of “togetherness” for those who understood Helensburgh as a coal town and were concerned about future employment in coal mining. Feelings of pride legitimise individual claims of opposition to climate action fashioned by discourses of coal as a resource. The counter-demonstration at the Helensburgh Climate Camp parade is performative of visceral pride.

Third Moment: Questioning Social Responsibilities

The third moment occurred at the end of the parade during a non-violent direct action, when the chanting of bystanders suddenly stopped as a 61-year-old man and his father, who were well known Helensburgh residents, walked onto the property of the coal company.

Outside the mine entrance there is a platform for those people participating in the walk-on. I can feel a sense of expectation. There is a sense of ritual sacrifice. We understand that those attempting to walk-on to the coalmine are willing to be arrested for civil disobedience. A banner demanding “STOP coal expansion” has the qualities of a sacred object—it was held at the front of the parade and now operates as a backdrop for the walk-on. From this temporary stage, the set rhythms of the walk-on are a ritualised performance of non-violent direct action. The first is a woman, together with her mother and her son -representing three generations acting on climate change. Next are a 61-year-old man and his father who represented Helensburgh. Last is a man from Fiji who explained he represented the climate injustices imposed upon the “Global South”. After stating their reasons and pledging they would not resist arrest, each walks up to the property boundary of the colliery, which is now reinforced by a line of riot police. In turn these men, women and children then sit down at the feet of the police and are arrested(Research diary entry, first author, 11.49 am, 11 October 2009).

Until this moment, both bystanders and those walking for climate action were generating sounds that helped each social group make sense of the walk-on at the mine entrance.

Listening, I continue to hear the words: “Fight back, when the place is under attack”. In response, accompanied by the sounds of horns and beat from the improvised percussion band, those walking for climate action chant: “What do we want? Green jobs! Where do we want them? Helensburgh!” While those walking for climate change applause and cheer people who participate in the non-violent direct action, some bystanders hurl verbal insults and eggs. The “Fight back” chant and verbal insults stopped as bystanders recognised the two Helensburgh residents. Instead, watching the bodies of bystanders the most vocal onlookers now lower their heads. Listening, I hear questions are now being asked about the purpose of the parade.

Bystander 1: Yuse are enemies.

Walker 1: No, it is not a matter of someone being an enemy.

Bystander 1: No, no, there are so many people's jobs here, and yuse are coming in here.

Walker 1: No it is not about that at all.

Walker 2: This is about the world man. It is not about Helensburgh town. It is about the whole world.

Bystander 2: Should the protest not be against the politicians who approve it, Helensburgh mine?

Bystander 1: Not against Helensburgh mine.

Bystander 2: Not against the people who work here.

Walker 1: No but we are not against the people who work here. That is what we have been saying. We want a transition to green jobs. And we want to help do that. We've spent three days in camp trying to give people a sense of empowerment do stuff that really needs to be done (research diary entry, first author, 12.03 pm, 11 October 2009).

During the walk-on, some Helensburgh residents struggled when their classification of those participating in the climate change movement as “enemies” was challenged as they recognised a friend, acquaintance, or resident. There was now an incongruity to the bodies participating in the walk-on. Viscerally primed for identification with coal and coal mining, those onlookers may have feel a battle between the visceral pride they experienced for Helensburgh fashioned by discourses of a coal town, contrasted with the visceral shame of having categorised a “local” as an enemy. Visceral shame is highly self-reflexive. As Probyn (2005:78) argued, visceral “shame sets off a nearly involuntary re-evaluation of one's self and one's actions”. Our observations suggest the possibilities of feeling shame through shouting insults and eggs at older “locals”. Furthermore, as Probyn (2000:132) argued, “one of the effects of experiencing shame is a sense that categories of right and wrong, agreeable and distasteful, desirous and abominable, are rendered pressing and tangible”. In our case, visceral shame rendered abstract questions about social responsibilities for climate change more pressing and felt. This became evident in the eruption of questions during the walk-on. Visceral shame in Deleuze's sense has the capacity to open “lines of flight” through unsettling existing structures of power by revealing our own subjectivity and materiality.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Our preceding discussion contains one of the few empirically grounded studies of sound at a parade (cf Duffy et al. 2011). Drawing on Probyn's (2000) reading of Deleuze we understand the political importance of sound by meshing the materiality of the body with people's beliefs about places, things and themselves as subjects. We provided a concrete example of the visceral politics of sound by drawing on participant observation, research diaries and videos of Climate Camp 2009 in Helensburgh, Australia. The Climate Camp was organised to increase consciousness of carbon emissions. We investigated three moments to illustrate how, when and why the rhythmic affordances of sound helped mobilise bodies, which are embedded in discursive webs, heightening the affective intensities of the parade. Each moment underscored the importance of understanding how bodily judgements interweave with dominant discourse on coal, coal towns, climate change science, activism and sustainability. In this case study, the unfolding bodily judgements of the parade sounds were emphasised as triggers for a collective identity and placement in Helensburgh by those walking for climate action, and conversely, as displacement for those bystanders viscerally primed for identification with coal as a resource. Likewise, the sounds of a counter-demonstration organised by bystanders viscerally attuned for identification with coal as a resource, were integral to initially triggering visceral pride that mobilised a politics of re-placement in coal. Primed for identification with coal, visceral shame wrought through the politics of identity and difference; prompting questions about the social responsibilities for greenhouse emissions reduction.

Where do sounds leave us in thinking about radical geography and creating ‘space for emotion in the spaces of activism” (Brown and Pickerill 2009:24)? The broader implication of this study is that sounds play a crucial—but often under-recognised—role in mobilising bodies as individuals or collectively. Through presenting an analysis of this empirical material we sought to advance knowledge of how sound works in what Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy (2008) called “visceral politics”. Sound is an exceptional tool for this project because the affordances of sound have the capacity to intensify the energies already circulating in and in between human and non-human bodies. Sound triggers strong affective and emotive responses. Places are not only shaped by sound, but also sound is crucial to the ways in which bodies shape space. Furthermore, different bodies bring different qualities and hence an array of affective and emotional responses. Therefore, a focus on the bodily judgements of sound enabled us to trace the ambiguity of embodied political agency in situ. Adopting a visceral approach, a focus on bodily judgements of sounds is helpful in providing clues to how bodies are mobilised, or not, into action, within particular contexts. We encourage others to consider the visceral politics of sound.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Progress in Emotional and Affective Geographies of Activism
  5. Camps for Climate Action
  6. Methods for Tracing the Visceral Politics of Sound
  7. Capacities to Embody Climate Action
  8. Conclusion
  9. References
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