Spatialising antagonism: A post-foundational analysis of space, violence and the political in Derry city
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By spatialising Ernesto Laclau’s theoretical-philosophical concept of ‘antagonism’, this thesis offers a post-foundational analysis of the conflictual articulation of space in Derry, a city located in the north-west of Ireland. Antagonism, as first developed by Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, is one of the most decisive and radical contributions to contemporary social and political theory. Not only does antagonism render the social in a much more political light, it also, as recently suggested by Oliver Marchart (2018) in Thinking Antagonism, carries the potential to reimagine the spatial in critical political and social inquiry. This thesis, at both a theoretical and empirical level, takes up this challenge. First, in a more theoretical register, the Laclauian iteration of antagonism is mobilised to develop a post-foundational and antagonistic account of space. While Laclau has a particular understanding of the spatial, (re)foregrounding the constitutive role of antagonism in his account of space recasts it in much more political light. Space, then, is understood as politically instituted and antagonistically constituted. That is, spatial formations are the product of contingent political institution and are defined by constitutive exclusions. This introduces a radical negativity into the heart of our spatial thinking as there is always an outside that both sustains and threatens political articulations of space. Stressing the ontological violence that is implicated in the ‘original’ institution of social-spatial formations, however, tells us little of the ‘concrete’ spatial dynamics of violence in contested spaces. As such, this thesis asks the question, ‘what happens between the antagonistic constitution of space and the expression of spatially structured modes of violence?’ That is the puzzle. Secondly, then, and in a more empirical vein, this thesis interrogates ways through which antagonism was spatially articulated in Derry city during key historical moments of intercommunal tension and conflict. Specifically, the thesis examines the conflictual performance of space in mid to late-Victorian Derry, and the serious moment of political violence that engulfed the city in June 1920. In each of these episodes, the conflictual inscription of spatial boundaries, that is, the antagonistic performance of space, both generated and structured the dynamics of inter-communal violence in Derry. Spatialising antagonism, then, in the study of contested spaces casts a productive light on the spatial dynamics of violence.
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