“Si vous réussissez, vous serez bientôt couverts de gloire” – Thoughts on 200 Posts

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So WordPress told me today that I’d made 200 posts on The Semaphore Line. I had no idea! So I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out on this obviously momentous occasion.

I set this blog up in April 2012, 5 months before I started my PhD. I wanted it to be a space where I could develop my own thinking in a relatively public way. I wanted to link to things I’d read online that I liked and felt like sharing. With my starting of the PhD it gave me an opportunity to write on various topics that – although not knowing whether they would comprise my final thesis interests – would at least allow me to explore the terrain in some way.

I named it The Semaphore Line after the Chappe Brothers’ communication system. The title of this post references the first message that was sent between the two signal towers in 1791 (“if you succeed you will bask in glory”). I wrote about it in my first post, going back to say a little more on it in November 2013. As I said in April 2012:

As a historical example of the nexus of military needs, political and revolutionary events, and visual informational devices, the Semaphore Line acts as a grounding for thinking through the dynamics of geospatial technology, interactive media and the digital frontier. This blog will collate some of the work done at the intersection of these fields.

I’d like to think I’ve stuck to these interests over the last 3 ½ years – and as the sub-title of my blog hints at, I like to think I’ve appropriately covered ‘technology, space and politics’. Even if I may have gone a little off-topic sometimes.

Of course, the stats are important to a degree. 11,933 total views. 95 followers. 57 comments. 4 thematic categories. 560 unique tags. And of course: 200 posts. Hardly earth-shattering – but for a personal research blog I’d say not bad. Although, I’m hardly going to be topping my other (now long retired) blogging site for hits anytime soon (69, 253!). And nothing is going to top being linked to on a Guardian live football blog.

During 2012 and 2013 I blogged more prolifically. I think this is a fairly common experience. The first year of a PhD has a certain freedom to it. You can get away with saying ‘I’m still thinking about it’ and not be challenged on your output. Blogging, it seems, was the output itself rather than a means to an end. This year (2015) as primary research, journal article drafts, collaborative book editing, conference session organizing, fieldcourse game design and *actual* thesis chapter writing (!!!) have ‘got in the way’ I’ve been restricted to a whole lot more re-blogging and ‘signposting’. That’s to say, trumpeting (for better or for worse…) my work in other spaces (journals, websites) than using the blog to throw ideas down.

The top 3 posts in terms of hits (ignoring the home page and ‘about’ page), however, do somewhat sum up my evolving, shifting priorities over the years. In 3rd place: a muse on ‘Constant Nieuwenhuys, New Babylon and Henri Lefebvre’ from December 2012, in light of a first-year presentation we had to give on our thesis topic. In 2nd: a dissection of ‘The Abercrombie Plans’ from May 2013; stimulated in part by coming across the Utopia London (2010) film. In 1st place: ‘A Night in Balfron Tower’ from July 2013 – a photo-led article on gentrification in London spurred on by – yep, you guessed it – spending a night in the (in)famous Balfron Tower. Each of these seem to have cross-cut the blog’s general themes quite well, intersecting with spatial theory, the city and architecture along the way.

This like many of my posts has been written in transit on the CrossCountry train (a typical view is above!) back from Warwick (where I study) to Manchester (where I live). It’s provided me with both the space and the rhythm to write some more explorative and provisional things. And whilst sometimes it’s certainly been easier to sit back, mindlessly flick through twitter or just fall asleep, I’ve often found my most lucid moments on such journeys – and when I have I’ve tried my best to share them on here. 200 posts later and that hasn’t changed much. Writing can be tough but not writing is tougher. Blogging – however frequently, lucidly, expansively, briefly, or rambling-ly – has given me space to discover that.

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*Update* Maps, Kettles and Inflatable Cobblestones: The Art of Playful Disruption in the City

Back in February I posted an article I wrote for Novara Wire on protest mapping. In it I mentioned I had a forthcoming article in a themed issue of Media Fields on ‘Spaces of Protest’. Since I mentioned it the issue still isn’t live is now live. Until that time I’ve decided to upload the pre-publication author copy to The full version is now on my ‘selected publications’ page. If anyone is so kind as to reference it please do so as: ‘S. Hind (forthcoming, 2015) Please reference as normal. I’ll post a link to the entire theme issue when it goes live – hopefully sometime soon. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the other contributions.

In short the paper is on ‘the art of playful disruption’, and attempts to draw some connections between Situationism and recent playful, urban protest events involving ‘maps, kettles and inflatable cobblestones’. I argue that these are ‘urban embodiments of jouissance, playful articulations of political matters’.

I make this case with reference to Alice Becker-Ho and Guy Debord’s A Game of War (1987) strategy game – something I’ve mentioned briefly on this blog before, in November 2013. Rather than go over (once again) some of the classics of Situationism, I’ve drawn on A Game of War because, as I’ve suggested in the article, it ‘was the closest any Situationist work had got to actually devising a practically and tactically useful guide to territorial engagement’. That it did so via the medium of a board game is ‘testament to the movement’s enduring playfulness’.

Two case studies testify to this continuing sensibility. One concerns a smartphone app created by student activists in London in 2010, another centres on the design of so-called ‘inflatable cobblestones’ by the Eclectic Electric Collective (now Tools for Action). Again, I’ve mentioned both previously: here and here (in relation to the Disobedient Objects exhibition). Needless to say I find both quite wonderful examples of what Graham St. John (2008: 172) has called ‘carnivalesque hacking’, i.e. a way to ‘provide creative possibilities’ to ‘deliberately danger the smooth running’ of otherwise sanitized and restricted protest events.

The cobblestone of course has deep links to urban revolt, and specifically to Situationist rebellion, echoed in the famous evocative call of “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the cobblestones, the beach”). The design of glossy, enlarged, inflatable cobblestones for the purposes of contemporary protest gestures towards this history, but also subverts it in its obvious fragility. As police officers – disarmed by the frivolity an inflatable object brings to a protest demonstration – attack, deflate and confiscate the cumbersome objects it mocks and ridicules them. Watching a police officer attempting to attack an inflatable with a weapon is, well, rather funny, if not wholly farcical. Thus laying bare the unnecessary force of the state for all to see. Each example ‘depends on the successful mobilization of ludic action’. In other words, on the ‘playful articulation of political matters’.