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  • The Geographies of Social Movements: Afro-Colombian Mobilization and the Aquatic Space by Ulrich Oslender
  • Maurice Rafael Magaña
Ulrich Oslender, The Geographies of Social Movements: Afro-Colombian Mobilization and the Aquatic Space. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 290 pp.

The Geographies of Social Movements is an ambitious project that seeks to use ethnography to bridge political and cultural geography with social movements studies. More specifically, Ulrich Oslender deploys "a critical place perspective" (17) and rich ethnographic fieldwork to analyze the social movement(s) of black communities in Colombia's Pacific Coast region. For Oslender, this means focusing first on the situated cultural, physical, and social fabric of everyday life in these communities, before then tracing the diverse ways that these everyday realities get translated into social movement discourse, practice, and ideals. As a geographer, Oslender's emphasis is on understanding the ways that black communities in Colombia's Pacific Coast articulate their understandings of territory, collective rights, and the "spatial logic" underlying them. What ensues is not a detached account of Colombian geography, but rather an ambitious ethnography grounded in place and space—one that is even poetic at times.

Ulrich Oslender argues that social movement scholars need to go beyond analyzing "generic processes and mechanisms" (5) of movements and instead account for the dynamics of place-making and the assemblages of spatial relations that occur through human and non-human (in this case, aquatic) entanglements, which he captures through his concept of "aquatic space." This shift away from purely structural accounts of movements is of course nothing new (i.e., "New Social Movements Theory"), and his focus on the "geographical constitution of social movement agency" (13) draws on the work of geographers like Paul Routledge (1993), Steven Pile and Michael Keith (1997) who also demanded that Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 90, No. 2, p. 553–558, ISSN 0003-5491. © 2017 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of The George Washington University. All rights reserved. [End Page 553] space and place matter in social movements research. Where Oslender truly makes a unique contribution to the literature on social movements is through his concept of aquatic space. This concept allows him to fuse an attention to space with a multi-scalar examination of the situated physical, cultural, and political contexts of everyday life while paying serious attention to the narratives people have about space. Oslender takes this as the foundation for his analysis of social movement agency.

The Geographies of Social Movements begins with an introduction to the study and manuscript, as well as a brief primer on the relevant scholarship on place and social movements. The author goes on in Chapter 1 to outline his critical place perspective by reviewing the literature, which he groups as follows: "Lefebvre and the Production of Space," which following Lefebvre's (1991) theory of the social production of space is broken up into the conceptual categories of "Spatial Practices," "Representations of Space," and "Representational Space." This section is followed by "A Critical Place Perspective on Social Movements" where Oslender engages the work of geographers like Doreen Massey (2005) and David Harvey (1985) to argue, convincingly, for the need to account for the relationship between space and place, in order to render the multi-scalar, grounded, and networked experiences of communities and social movements legible. What I found to be missing, however, is an explicit engagement with the literature produced by anthropologists on social movements, space, and place. I found this surprising given the book's attempt to examine social movements ethnographically. For example, I would have liked to see the author relate Arturo Escobar's (2008) use of the notion of "meshwork" to his own concept of "aquatic space." I think there may be a productive engagement there, especially given Escobar's similar interest in examining territories, difference, and social movements through theories of assemblage and his vast experience conducting ethnographic fieldwork with Afro-Colombian communities in the very same region.

In Chapter 2, the author makes a compelling argument for the utility of his concept of aquatic space. Oslender grounds this concept in relation to local social movements through an analysis of oral traditions, including the décima...


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pp. 553-557
Launched on MUSE
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