New book by by Sean Phelan, Neoliberalism, Media and the Political, some of which discusses Ireland.

Neoliberalism, Media and the Political presents a novel critical analysis of the condition of media and journalism in neoliberal cultures. Emphasizing neoliberalism’s status as a political ideology that is simultaneously hostile to politics, the argument is grounded in empirical illustrations from different social contexts, including post-Rogernomics New Zealand, Celtic Tiger Ireland, the Leveson Inquiry into the UK press, and the climate-sceptic blogosphere. Phelan draws on a variety of theoretical sources, especially Laclau and Bourdieu, to affirm the importance of neoliberalism as an analytical concept. Yet, he also interrogates how critiques of neoliberalism – in media research and elsewhere – can reduce social practices to the category of neoliberal. Against the image of a monolithic free-market ideology that imposes itself on other domains, the book identifies the potential sites of a cultural politics within neoliberalized media regimes.

Table of contents
Introduction: Disfiguring Neoliberalism
1. Articulating Neoliberalism in Critical Media and Communication Studies
2. Neoliberal Discourse: Theory, History and Trajectories
3. Neoliberal Logics and Field Theory
4. Neoliberalism and Media Democracy: A Representative Anecdote from Post-Rogernomics New Zealand
5. The Journalistic Habitus and the Realist Style
6. Media Cultures, Anti-Politics and the ‘Climategate’ Affair
7. Neoliberal Imaginaries, Press Freedom and the Politics of Leveson
8. Media Rituals and the ‘Celtic Tiger’: The Neoliberal Nation and its Transnational Circulation
Conclusion: The Possibility of a Radical Media Politics

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Over the last couple of weeks the Irish media has been chock-a-block with stories about the McNulty affair. There’s really no need for a recap here. But suffice to say that Fine Gael found itself mired in controversy when the story broke (and broke and broke…) that John McNulty, “a Donegal grocer and petrol retailer”, had been put on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in what has been called an incidence of ‘stroke politics’, so as to boost his credentials to fill a vacancy on the Seanad’s cultural and education panel.

The affair was flogged by media and opposition parties as indicative of the type of cronyism and ‘jobs for the boys’ that Enda Kenny so virulently condemned during the last general election. Along with the Taoiseach, Heather Humphreys, was singled out in particular for the very public backlash – so public indeed that Fine Gael TDs John Deasy and Séan Conlan got in on the act. McNulty, for his part, kept pretty quiet – his ghostly presence mostly circulating in the form of a single photograph and soundbites from various individuals testifying to his credentials – before withdrawing his candidacy on yesterday.

While the purported abuse of the boards of semi-state bodies for purposes of political patronage is not unproblematic, the whole episode speaks to a far more troubling aspect of Irish political discourse: namely the way that issues of cronyism and ‘political reform’ are placed centre stage in political debate, while decisions about the economy, including the perpetuation of austerity, which have far wider reaching impacts on the lives of citizens, are being made politically invisible.

In a feature piece on the topic in last weekend’s Sunday Times, Fine Gael’s John Deasy, expressing his criticisms of Kenny’s handling of the affair, is quoted as saying:

“People are getting sick of the way this is being conducted and it doesn’t really strike people as being what we, as a party, phrased as new politics… The parliamentary party is very happy with the way Michael Noonan is running the economy, but I think people are becoming disgusted with the way Fine Gael is being run [by Enda Kenny]”.

For me, the crucial aspect in Deasy’s statement is the way it constructs a separation between economic policy (Noonan’s ‘management’ of the economy) and the ‘politics’ of state appointments (Kenny’s party leadership). The most significant political decisions the current Government has made have been those relating to the economy. Sweeping spending cuts in social welfare, healthcare, and education, an intensified programme to sell national assets, far-reaching reforms of working conditions and a redirection of state supports to cash-rich investors have all been features of a suite of economic policies that successive governments have implemented post-crisis. The sustained programme of austerity has woven itself deep into the lives of individuals, families, and communities. Decisions about the direction of economic policy, then, are intrinsically political.

However, these decisions are frequently viewed as issues of technocratic management, a matter of accountancy and number crunching, which precludes any real political discussion about them. Decisions about the economy are constructed responding to the objective state of ‘the markets’, and as such are outside the messy realm of politics.

This has been compounded by a recent shift in the discourse. Ireland, the Government tell us, is now in recovery, the recession is over and the austerity policies implemented over the last half a decade have proven a ‘success’. Despite ample evidence of continuing hardship (for example, a MABS study showing their clients have an average disposable income of just €8.75 a week), Fine Gael, in particular, have been keen to mobilise this story to bolster their chances of re-election.

And the media seem happy to accept the story of recovery at face value.

During the recent Prime Time debate between the candidates running in the Roscommon South-Leitrim by-election, for example, Miriam O’Callaghan put it to one of the candidates that his previous calls to “burn the bondholders” had been proven erroneous by current economic recovery. In another exchange, Independent candidate Gerry O’Boyle spoke out angrily about the considerable time given over in the debate to questioning Fine Gael’s Maura Hopkins about the McNulty affair. To O’Callaghan’s suggestion that “this was a huge national issue” he retorted: “I’m here to deal with the issue of family homes… Family homes — you don’t even think about it!”

Vincent Brown made the point on TV3 on Monday that the corporatist neoliberal economic model that has been practiced by the current Government is indicative of a much more trenchant form of cronyism (the proposed tax probe on Apple a case in point) than the McNulty affair. As indicative of a warped political system as it is, the McNulty affair pales in comparison to the destruction that the programme of austerity has brought.

In the aftermath of McNulty’s withdrawal, Fine Gael have tried to weave a careful PR narrative through the facts of the case. In the run up to the next General Election, if the John Deasy’s sentiments are shared widely within the party, one might speculate that Kenny could potentially be jettisoned as Taoiseach in an attempt to distance Fine Gael from the stigma of cronyism.

Instead the party will seek to be judged on their economic track record. And they should be – but not in the way they have in mind. Rather the political debate should be squarely focussed on the politics of economic policy – who the winners and losers have been in Ireland’s supposed recovery.

The swell of media coverage and discussion on the McNulty affair has pushed cronyism to the top of the list of burning political issues in the country. Meanwhile the politics of economic policy are pushed to the background. But as long as questions concerning the economy are depoliticised, the game stays the same – it just gets more fierce.

Cian O’Callaghan

At the recent AESOP/ACSP conference in University College Dublin, which brought together 1,200 planning academics and scholars from all over the world, Minister Jan O’Sullivan announced her intention to shortly bring forward a new planning policy statement setting out a new vision for the Irish planning system.

After the past few years of fire fighting, whereby the Government was desperately attempting to reign in the excesses of the Celtic tiger era and impose some control on the often reckless conduct of planning authorities, there is no doubt that such a vision is now sorely needed so that we can begin to effectively plan for the future. Earlier posts on this blog pointed to the current period of crisis as an opportunity for rethinking accepted ideas, policies and practices in relation to future planning and development in Ireland.

According to Minister O’Sullivan “…if the public doesn’t understand how the planning system works, why certain things are permitted and certain other things aren’t, then your planning system isn’t doing its job.” It is true to say that other than a vague comprehension of the legacy costs of ‘bad planning’, the public appreciation of what purpose planning serves in society has hit rock bottom, mired as it is in a perception of corruption, cronyism and ineptitude. This has not been helped by the complete failure of both the professional institutes and academia to effectively communicate a cogent mission and rationale for planning.

Planning is, at least in the public mind, typically reduced to development control i.e. planning applications. This is demonstrated by each and every time surveys are published showing a drop in the number of planning applications, which are inevitably accompanied by a chorus of calls for a reduction in public planners. This narrow technocratic interpretation (such as that conveyed in the BBC documentary ‘The Planners’) is something to which many public planners have grown both resigned and accustomed to. To be fair, this state of affairs has also been created in no small part by a deep cultural antipathy to planning in Ireland and an unfettered attitude to private property rights.

In a famous 1973 critique of planning, Aaron Wildavsky mused “if planning is everything, maybe it’s nothing” and there is more than a modicum of truth in this observation. In recent years the planning system has been lumbered with an ever more complex range of regulatory functions. Planners have had to come to grips with a whole host of new skills as well as grappling with the novel challenges brought about by the recession, most of which they plainly have no training for. A review of any county or city development plan will quickly show that planning is now the vanguard for an ever growing and diverse range of complex agendas such as housing policy, nature protection, flood risk management, vacant housing, renewable energy production, water quality protection, retail impact assessment, town centre management, economic development, climate change mitigation, landscape protection, heritage, infrastructure delivery etc.

Planning has now become so large and complex that the public planner cannot encompass its dimensions. As a result, county and city development plans are largely obscure and voluminous documents extending to hundreds of pages with vague policies often wrapped up in impenetrable jargon and mutually exclusive policy goals. Planners now find themselves at the nexus of so many contentious and contested policy debates and it is little wonder that the profession has retreated to the high moral ground of blaming politicians and sought cover in the banality of development control. I do not argue that mediating competing economic, social and environmental agendas should not be a core function of planning into the future. However, we must be aware that extending planning to cover so much merely serves to obfuscate what it is precisely that planning is attempting to achieve. A cynical critique would indeed conclude that maybe that is indeed nothing.

Of course, collapsing the purpose of planning down to a core agenda is a process fraught with danger. This was well demonstrated by the England’s recently published National Planning Framework (NPF). The function of the new NPF is ostensibly to simplify the planning code. However, the real rationale is clearly the perennial Tory neoliberal agenda of planning retrenchment and foreclosing all but a narrow debate around the economic growth agenda and boosting housing supply.

If there is one thing that any new planning vision for Ireland should definitely not be about is economic growth. This may appear a rather taboo notion in an environment where the consensus demands that every public policy is compelled to fully justify itself on the basis of the economy. However, it is readily obvious with even a cursory analysis that it is not within the gift of planning to grow the economy. Including growth as a core goal of planning tends towards overproduction (e.g. housing, zoning etc.); heightens competitive pressures between regions favouring larger urban centres; and systematically excludes qualitative social and ecological considerations which must be at the heart of planning thinking. Indeed the origins of planning were in mitigating the crisis conditions brought about by rapid economic growth.

In order to avoid mission creep and reassert the relevance of planning for the daunting challenges of the coming 21st Century we must therefore firmly place the horse back at the front of the cart. Rebuilding public trust in the battered image of the planning system compels us to create a new mission for planning which is realistic, relevant and serves to build a shared public understanding of its value. This must first start with an explicit recognition that planning involves making choices – planning is politics.

Any future vision for Irish planning must therefore return to the welfare state origins upon which modern planning was founded, rooted in concepts of social and spatial justice. This requires an explicit move away from the depoliticised, entrepreneurial growth agenda aimed at boosting supply side activities such as housing and infrastructure provision. A new vision for planning must be centred upon the public goods and services for which the spatial distribution is within the remit of the State to achieve. The delivery of public services requires certain infrastructure networks including, for example, transport, waste, energy and communications infrastructure as well as facilities and services related to health, education, culture and recreation – all of which require an integrated approach to settlement planning. A simple mission for this new planning vision could be: “To ensure that a certain socially agreed and necessary base level of services that people need are provided when and where that need occurs”.

In many ways the disconnect between public service delivery on the one hand and the spatial distribution of population on the other sums up the failures of the Irish planning system over the past few decades. This was laid starkly evident with, for example, the debacle in west Dublin where little consideration was given to the fact that a rapid increase in new housing would soon yield a requirement for new schools. Equally, in many rural areas, the collapse of the Celtic tiger artifice and the accompanying severe programme of public service retrenchment has left many communities without necessary services. In many cases these are areas where a massive ad hoc proliferation of scattered housing was permitted necessitating many people to travel large distances to access services and employment opportunities, or to live without.

In Germany, for example, the overarching aim in the development of the spatial structure of the national territory is to establish equivalent living conditions in all parts of the country. The Iceland 2020 strategy, which was forged after the economic collapse of the state, similarly puts the welfare and quality of life of its citizens at the centre of its national planning policy. In effect, a policy of equivalent living conditions would primarily benefit peripheral regions, since there are usually greater structural weaknesses and imbalances in these regions. Equivalency, however, does not mean that all regions must have identical infrastructure or that the income of all people must be the same everywhere, which is neither practicable nor reasonable. Regional equivalence of living conditions means that as many citizens as possible are able to participate equally in development of society. To approach equality of opportunity it is necessary to ensure certain minimum standards with respect to access to and the availability of services of public interest, to options for earning a living, to infrastructure and environmental qualities.

Placing social security and the equality of citizens to the fore of the agenda for a new planning vision would require a fundamental rethink of how we plan and provide a compelling rationale for promoting public acceptance as to why we plan. Upholding this principle at a time when public resources are limited could help inform a, heretofore absent, rational national dialogue on settlement planning. Importantly, it could also help close the gaping lacuna which has been the achilles heel of the Irish planning system for decades – the dichotomy between planning policy decisions made by local authorities and the opportunity costs to society associated with those decisions. The model underpinning the Local Property Tax, for example, comprises numerous spatially derived variables including relative distance to services and amenities. Therefore, in theory, the more households with good accessibility to local services, the greater the return to the local authority to maintain those services, thus creating a virtuous circle.

Such a vision should not be alien to Jan O’Sullivan who is after all a Labour Party minister. However, in an era of consensus-seeking where planning has become a depoliticised, stage-managed process which attempts to please everyone through ‘win-win-win’ policy solutions, I have no doubt that when published the new vision will be the usual fuzzy policy muddle of irreconcilable policy goals which superficially offers something to everyone but achieves very little.

Gavin Daly

Academics are increasingly using social media, such as blogs and twitter, to communicate their work and ideas and to engage a wider public.  In a forum in the most recent issue of Dialogues in Human Geography 3(1) we discuss in detail the opportunities, challenges and risks of academics utilising social media, reflecting on our experiences of blogging on IrelandAfterNAMA.  In response are six commentaries that engage with, extend and critique our ideas.  The forum as a whole provides an interesting discussion about the politics, circulation and audiences of academic knowledge production and how social media is reconfiguring the way in which academics share their work and take part in public debate.  The issue is open access and we’re happy to continue the reflection and debate here.

Public geographies through social media, p. 56-72
by Rob Kitchin, Denis Linehan, Cian O’Callaghan and Philip Lawton

Whose geography? Which publics? p. 73-76
by Jeremy W Crampton, Jay Bowen, Daniel Cockayne, Brittany Cook, Eric Nost, Lindsay Shade, Laura Sharp and Malene Jacobsen

Social media and the academy: New publics or public geographies? p. 77-80
by Mark Graham

Blogs as ‘minimal’ politics, p. 81-84
by Andrew Davies

Academics’ diverse online public communications, p. 85-86
by Jenny Pickerill

Social media experiments: Scholarly practice and collegiality, p. 87-91
Chris Gibson and Leah Gibbs

Public geography and the politics of circulation, p. 92-95
by David Beer

The creation and circulation of public geographies, p. 96-102
Rob Kitchin, Denis Linehan, Cian O’Callaghan, and Philip Lawton

 

 

The definitive Census 2011 population figures have been published today. Election boundary changes (for general and European elections) will be made on the basis of these, but this time are taking place in the context of a decision by government to advise a reduction in Dail seat numbers by between 6 (160 seats) and 13 (153 seats). So what do these population figures mean in terms of which constituencies may, or may not, be likely to have their election boundaries changed following on the upcoming Consituency Commission report, especially given that this body effectively will have eight different options in terms of total Dáil seat numbers to choose from? (more…)

While running for the train this morning I grabbed a copy of Metro Herald from the vendor outside the station.  Unsurprisingly, a picture of Queen Elizabeth adorned the front page, smiling benignly and holding flowers as she met with Trinity students yesterday.  The accompanying article described the visit as an “extraordinary occasion”, while also giving more marginal coverage to a range of protests that marked the day.  Inside, another article titled “Forget history, we’re here for the fashion” suggested that for many people the dresses worn by Mary McAlese and the Queen would form greater interest than any political or historical concerns.  On the letters page, the subject of the Queen’s visit was again raised by a disgruntled reader proclaiming their “boredom” with the “negative comments” surrounding the visit.  He suggested that “Now is the time to show that we’ve moved on and don’t hold petty grudges”.

While personally I do not find the protests by Sinn Féin and other republican groups especially constructive, and I certainly do not sympathise with the calls for violence espoused by some dissident groups, taking issue with the long history and the sustained impacts of British rule in Ireland hardly amounts to a “petty grudge”.  I bring up this letter not because it is particularly insightful, but rather because it offers an example of what appears to be a relatively commonplace response to the British monarch’s visit; that is, the perspective that Ireland’s colonial past no longer matters, that we have overcome this heritage and that, in the context of contemporary globalisation and cosmopolitanism, suggesting otherwise amounts to an exercise in a futile and dangerous anachronism.  This attitude is arguably an outcome of the transformations experienced during the Celtic Tiger period.  The rapid changes to Ireland from the early 1990s seem to have brought with them a cultural amnesia, wherein Irish people forgot the nation’s troubled history and position within the political geography of Europe, in favour of an assumed identity as cosmopolitan citizens of a post-political age.

However, the inescapable fact remains that Ireland is a postcolonial nation.  And as the post-colonial studies literature shows us, the affects of colonial rule do not suddenly cease upon the moment of emancipation.

Because of its geographical position, on the periphery of Europe but nevertheless within the area political designated as European, Ireland has occupied a particular (in many ways privileged) postcolonial position.  Its geographical proximity to Europe and its cultural proximity to the US, its racial composition, and especially its access to the EU, have afforded Ireland opportunities for economic and structural advancement not offered to other former colonies.  In many ways, it could be argued that Ireland’s position as a postcolonial nation within Europe mitigated some of the more trenchant outcomes of imperialism.  It has not been the target of economically and politically neo-colonialist interventions (at least up until the recent IMF bailout).  Postcolonial nations have frequently struggled to build any sort of functional state apparatus or economy.  In regard to nations in Africa, for example, Simone (2004, p. 158) suggests that “Even though urban wages increased substantially in the postwar period – at an average of 116 percent increase between 1949 and 1955 – top wage levels for Africans in 1962 fell well below the bottom wage for Europeans.  There was just not enough money to support a massive project of resocialization”.  Only a small proportion of the populations in modern African nations are employed in the formal economy, while the informal sector has become increasingly important to the survival of many inhabitants.  Similarly, the public sector has never recovered from the decimation left in the wake of the colonial powers leaving.  While Ireland certainly experienced poverty in the postwar period, it didn’t experience economic and social problems anywhere near the scale of those experienced in Africa or Latin America.  Moreover, the Celtic Tiger ‘economic miracle’ saw dramatic increases in GDP, wage levels, and standards of living.  This was seen as evidence of Ireland’s escape from its postcolonial status, to be replaced by an identity as a global economic leader.  Furthermore, the case of Ireland was used as a vehicle to hide the unequal nature of economic development, by suggesting that the Celtic Tiger offered an example of the benefits of a country opening itself up to the global market, and thus perpetuating a view that these markets offered an equal playing field.

One of the outcomes of the prevalence of free-market ideology over the last number of decades has been a disavowal of the role that history and geography play in contemporary economic, social and political contexts.  Some of the popular reactions to the Queen’s visit to Ireland exemplify this perspective.  While to an extent the deep ambivalence that the visit represents is being acknowledged and it is being seen as of ‘historic importance’, there is a latent underlying narrative constructing this as a straightforward diplomatic mission.  This is achieved in large part by consigning British imperialism in Ireland to the category of ‘history’, something to be read about and studied but which bears little relation to realities as they currently stand.  Part of her itinerary thus involves a series of ceremonial functions that symbolically gesture towards a reappraisal of British involvement in Ireland, but do so only opaquely and without formal apology for political violence and injustice that were the outcome of this involvement.  Therefore, this history is both remembered and forgotten, remembered only briefly to be forgotten, forgotten for us to remember that as a nation we are now somewhere else, somewhere where this uncomfortable history can be comfortably remembered and forgotten.

But this imagination of the nation elides not only a whole section of Ireland’s past, but crucial ways of understanding its present.  As protests organised yesterday by the Socialist Party pointed out, British imperialism did not end at the close of the colonialism era, but is ongoing in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the form of direct involvement in conflict, and in complex neo-colonial relationships with their former colonies.  As Edward Said (1994, p.8) suggests, “…direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism… lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices”.  The project of colonialism and the residual effects of imperialism have formed a colossal global project that continues to shape the world we live in.  Ireland is no exception in this regard.  Apart from the very obvious problems stemming from the political situation in the north, the Republic of Ireland on account of its colonial status started its independent march towards modernity with an economic and administrational deficit.  The apparatus of governance and public administration that had been built up in other European nations were largely missing from the Free State inherited by the Irish people, and the nation has had to contend with a series of rapid transformations from this stunted base.  This has had, and continues to have, significant implications for the Irish state’s ability to function.  Mac Laughlin (1997, p. 3) argues that the country’s social problems stem from “…the fact that Ireland has become a postmodern society before becoming a modern nation”.

Far from effacing and erasing these challenges, the Celtic Tiger period exemplified their continued applicability.  Faced with its postcolonial deficit – the weakness of its political system, the paucity of state-owned and indigenous industry, the high levels of out-migration – the state turned to the unsustainable policy of trying to attract foreign direct investment as a way of growing the economy.  While, owing to a range of factors, this strategy was successful for a time, it still bespoke the limited mechanisms of the postcolonial state.  These limited mechanisms were also mirrored in the levels of political cronyism and corruption that mired the property boom that was to follow.  Of course, Ireland’s current economic crisis cannot be blamed entirely on its status as postcolonial.  Much of the current problems faced by the country are very clearly the outcome of incompetence, greed, and under-regulation by Irish banks, politicians, and developers.  However, rather than being tangential to these processes, the legacy of colonialism plays a key role in Celtic Tiger Ireland and its catastrophic aftermath.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the IMF/ECB bailout.  Here Ireland draws closer to its spiritual neighbours on the postcolony than perhaps ever before.   If Morgan Kelly’s apocalyptic warnings are anything to go by, Ireland could already be locked into a system of perpetual debt.  In this regard, its status as a postcolonial nation may have increasing significance.  So as the Queen visits these shores, rather than drawing divisions between those who have ‘moved on’ and those ‘living in the past’, perhaps we should be asking what this past really means for our present.

Cian O’ Callaghan

This is the first in a series of guest blogs from geographers around Europe. Edward Huijbens is a geographer based at the University of Akureyri in Iceland.

On the Friday before the big weekend in October 2008, when the whole finance sector in Iceland came tumbling down, there was tension in the air. During lunch time news a revered economist at the University of Iceland had stated that the banks were bankrupt with unforeseeable consequences for the nation at large. The was obvious panic in his voice and I rushed back to the office, where we gathered round the computer and listened to a replay on the internet of the news. We had not much to say – we were just numb and awestruck. On the Monday after the weekend big news were afoot and the PM was to address the nation on TV at 4pm. The nation came to a stand-still and we watched as the PM announced that the finance sector had capsized and might suck the whole nation in. He ended with the famous Bushian “God bless Iceland”.

Immediately it was clear that this collapse manifested regional disparities within the country. Around the small villages and towns around the cost people shrugged and said; we have had recession here for 30 years, this will not change much. Whilst in the capital region Reykjavík and bigger towns namely Akureyri and Reykjanesbær, the effect was felt more, but also the need to invest all the bubble capital accumulating was mainly manifest there, in highrises, roadworks, big building projects and new boroughs. Now these are all half-done and on hold.

Mostly people were at first numb, did not know what had happened and how. In August 2008 the nation was on the top of the world, with a booming economy and just having won a silver medal in the Olympics in handball. When the handball team returned home tens of thousands filled the streets in Reykjavík as they received a royal welcome – national pride was rampant and all of a sudden it was all gone. Overnight we became equated with Zimbabwe and the likes in international media.

Then it began to dawn on some that the system we had built was fundamentally corrupt, through nepotism, and the ideological dogma of neo-liberalism was flawed. This was of course obvious to many beforehand, but the debate could never be sustained in the face of the amazing wealth that seemed to be pouring into the country. The only political party (the left green) that raised concern was absolutely ridiculed. As one left green parliamentarian suggested that the banks should just leave the country and set up HQ in London, the media uproar was immense.

As it dawned on the general public, various groups started to emerge and talk on various issues: general mis-trust at the political establishment was rampant so new ones formed. The most prominent one started the first Saturday after the collapse in October to rally people at 3 pm on the centre square in Reykjavík in front of the parliament house. There for 30 minutes 3-4 people would give short speeches on their take on the situation and the organiser, the well known civil liberties activist Hörður Torfason, would talk to people reminding them to come next Saturday. His aim was simple, to come every Saturday until three of his demands would be met: 1) That the director of the Central Bank would be ousted, 2) the government resigns and 3) that a general elections will be called.

The firm use of public space to voice simple clear demands became the platform for the change that would in the end occur. People held on to these meetings, and the media made more and more of them as people started coming in their thousands. What at first was a handful of people had by January 2009 become at least 10,000 people (bear in mind in Iceland the population is 320,000 in total). This mass of people simply could not be ignored and when the parliament reconvened after Christmas mid-January, Hörður urged all to come to the square and bring anything that could make noise – this time they will listen. People grabbed pots and pans mostly and filled the central square banging them along with percussionists and blaring horns. Inside the parliament people needed to shout to be heard, but still the parliament members and PM pretended as if nothing was going on. This so infuriated people that they came back the next day and the day thereafter and what unfolded was what later was called the “Kitchenware” Revolution and the government resigned. An interim government took over and general elections were called. There was change and a left government gained clear majority – but now, almost a year on, we are in the interesting situation that this new government seems to be doing all it can to resurrect the former system that collapsed in all its nepotistic and corrupt glory. We are a bit confused up here now and what next we do not know, except it seems clear that it is the tax-payer who will pay.

The lesson in this for me is that clear demands have to be set, with a clear structure and platform for the voicing of these demands: where come hell or high water, the demands will be voiced, and if not heard accompanied by pots and pans. For me the pivotal role that public space plays in the strategic locations, such as ours in Reykjavík, cannot be underestimated.

A hammer and a thick steel frying pan  can sever eardrums!

Eddie from Iceland