The uneven geographies of the Olympic carceral: from exceptionalism to normalisation


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


In recent years a vast academic literature has developed around the concept of ‘militarising’ or ‘securitising’ cities and in particular the policy responses to the occurrence of crime, fear of crime and the evaluation of cities as strategic sites for a spectrum of large-scale increasingly destructive perturbations in everyday urban life, such as riots, protest and acts of terrorism. Increasingly policy interventions in response to such threats have embodied characteristics of the ‘carceral archipelago’ where incarceration techniques and strategies are punitively deployed within public places of the city and embedded within the design of urban space. Such attempts at creating increasingly hyper-carceral spaces have often been supported by an array of legislation and regulation targeting the control of particular activities deemed unacceptable or inappropriate. This paper draws conceptually from the urban security literature noted above and emerging studies within the nascent sub-discipline of carceral geography, and examines their convergence on the issue of Olympic security planning. This highlights the various spatial strategies and imprints that emerge from new conceptualisations and practices of securitisation, and how these might be seen to characterise an increasingly punitive state. Here Agamben's studies of exceptionality are deployed to highlight how ‘lockdown’ security often becomes the ‘normal’ option for Olympic cities, seen as being on the frontline in the war on terror, and how a range of uneven geographies emerge and are sustained in such locations before, during and after the event. Empirically the paper uses data from ethnographic research focusing on the experiences of security preparation for, and post-event legacy of, the London 2012 Olympics. The paper also seeks to highlight how lessons from the military-carceral security strategies deployed in London have been transferred to subsequent host cities of Sochi (2014) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).