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Spatial politics and the spatial contract in Exarcheia, Athens, Greece (1974-2018)

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Abstract

This paper intervenes in recent geographical debates about territory, sovereignty, hegemony, and urban marginality by introducing the concept of a "spatial contract." The concept emerged from a longitudinal ethnographic engagement with the Exarcheia neighbourhood in Athens, Greece. The neighbourhood's unique concentration of riots during Greece's post-dictatorial era is theorised thus as manifesting a kind of spatial contract in which local conflict and contestation of state sovereignty endures amid the wider regional and national reproduction of state hegemony. Exarcheia's reputation and sustenance as a place of protest becomes explainable in this way as being made possible by an unstated but enduring state-society contract that the local contestation can be continued so long as it is also spatially contained. The paper first identifies key advances in geographical understandings of the relationship between territory and sovereignty that support such a theorisation. This growing body of scholarship is still largely unable to account for temporal and spatial exceptions in the sovereign control of territory. The paper proceeds to explain how a two-year ethnographic residence in Exarcheia (2008-2010), and repeat field visits since, have made manifest the emergence of a distinct spatial contract during Greece's immediate post-dictatorial era (post-1974), and again since 2008 during the country's three-fold crisis (economic, political, and of migrant reception). Far from being disconnected from these wider social transformations, the spatial contract actually reflects them, including now as it comes undone during a new and arguably revanchist period of hegemony through coercion. In this way, the changing conflictual relationships in Exarcheia can be interpreted anew as part of a hybrid yet hegemonic sovereign control over territory at large. This hybrid hegemonic mix has critical implications for our understanding of marginality, sovereignty, and territorial control more generally, including our ability to conceptualise agency, resistance, and citizenship within shifting forms of hegemony.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-558
Number of pages17
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Volume45
Issue number3
Early online date16 Dec 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

    Research areas

  • Athens, Greece, Longitudinal ethnography, Sovereignty, Spatial contract, Spatial politics

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