LINGUIST List 29.688

Mon Feb 12 2018

Review: Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics: Rojo (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 22-Aug-2016
From: Sibo Chen <>
Subject: Occupy
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Luisa Martín Rojo
TITLE: Occupy
SUBTITLE: The spatial dynamics of discourse in global protest movements
SERIES TITLE: Benjamins Current Topics 83
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Sibo Chen, Simon Fraser University

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Previously published as a special issue of Journal of Language and Politics (Volume 13, Issue 4), Occupy: The spatial dynamics of discourse in global protest movements explores the complex interplay between spatial and communicative practices within recent global social movements. From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement, the unprecedented wave of large-scale protests has captured public attention across the globe. The growing momentum of these protests invites us to re-conceptualize democracy and political practices in contemporary politics. A distinctive feature of these protests is the occupation of notable public spaces (e.g. Tahrir Square in Cairo and Zuccotti Park in New York) by protesters, who have transformed these spaces from centers of the capitalist system into influential counter-spaces.

Focusing on how oppositional discourses powerfully reconfigure the political dynamics of physical spaces, this volume examines communicative practices (e.g. signs, banners, and placards) within occupied urban spaces. A recurring theoretical framework throughout the volume is Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) “social production of space”. Lefebvre considers capitalism as an economic system constantly demanding the transformation of public spaces into private, commercial spaces. Yet, spaces are complex social constructions emerging from social practices. It is possible to transform a capitalist space into a counter-space by reclaiming its public character. In short, Lefebvre’s perspective highlights the semiotic dimension of urban spaces and their vital role in the reproduction of the capitalist system. Following Lefebvre’s insight, the overarching proposition of the volume is that the production and circulation of semiotic resources within recent global social movements have effectively appropriated and transformed urban spaces for radical democratic practices. These transformed spaces contribute to the formation of protester identity and community and the direct democratic practices within them sow the seed of future resistance.

The volume consists of seven chapters. Chapter One “Occupy” sets the volume’s overarching theoretical and methodological frameworks. The chapter argues that “signage in the square is not only an indicator of larger language ideological and political processes, but a form of appropriation or reterritorialization of core spaces in the city in order to reclaim an agora, a meeting point, a place for discussion and decision-making, for increasing participation and intervention in the governance of the community” (p. 7). In other words, the fact that semiotic practices shape and are shaped by urban spaces calls for the development of a communicative-spatial perspective in discourse research. Following this theoretical insight, the chapter then reviews traditional and new research tools for studying communicative-spatial practices, such as multi-sited ethnography, virtual ethnography, and multimodal analysis. The chapter proposes that the study of communicative-spatial practices should involve both physical and virtual dimensions since both online and offline communications influence the ways we perceive and interact with urban spaces.

The rest of the volume elaborates the complex dynamics underlying communicative-spatial practices through six case studies. Chapter Two “The Geosemiotics of Tahrir Square” focuses on Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. By explicating how Tahrir Square was turned into a site with complex symbolic connotations, the chapter demonstrates its multifaceted meanings for Egyptian protesters: it functioned as symbolic space, central space, spiritual space, playful counter-space, “Arab” space, and global-local space. Protest messages and Tahrir Square were reinforcing each other’s symbolic power. While the protests, the protesters, and the protest messages lent new meanings to Tahrir Square, the space’s symbolic representations in news coverage and social media brought Egyptian people’s voices and their historical and cultural knowledge to the world.

Chapter Three “Taking over the Square” analyzes the linguistic practices during the Spanish Indignados movement. The chapter calls for a serious academic treatment of the discursive and semiotic strategies employed by protesters. Strategies such as customization and embodiment of signs, dialogism, and polyphony were not only expressions of anger and frustration, they were also communicative practices that “contribute to the ‘de-territorialization’ and ‘re-territorialization’ of urban space” (p. 49). According to the chapter’s analysis, the production and circulation of linguistic practices during the Spanish Indignados movement served two purposes. First, they collectively problematized the established political norms in Spain. Through occupation, protesters rejected the designed institutional roles of significant sites and reclaimed them for promoting people’s democracy. For instance, In Madrid the occupation took place in the Puerta del Sol, a city symbol embedded with police brutality during the Francoism era. Second, the occupied squares in turn created new room for bottom-up political participation and public conversation. At the Puerta del Sol, a “parallel city hall” emerged from protesters’ democratic discussions.

Chapter Four “Mobilities of a Linguistic Landscape” explores the linguistic landscape of the 2011 Occupy Movement in Los Angeles. The primary focus here is the mobility of protest signs during the movement. Through tracking the physical and virtual displays of two popular signs (“Class Warfare” and “Monopoly Guy”), the chapter shows how their presence in multiple protests facilitated democratic contestations. Accordingly, the linguistic landscape built by the mobilization of such signs turned the LA city square into a representational space for popular democracy. Both “Class Warfare” and “Monopoly Guy” were further disseminated through social media, which strengthened their symbolic power. To this end, the chapter emphasizes the significance of mobilization in communicative-spatial practices.

Chapter Five “Identity as Space” analyzes the discursive and social practices during the Greek Indignados movement. Echoing the themes discussed in Chapter Three, this chapter analyzes the co-articulation of political identity and public space. The occupation of Syntagma Square in front of Greek Parliament not only connected the Greek protesters with the global wave of resistance, but also generated a new context in Greek politics by introducing a radical notion of political participation. A corpus analysis of the General Assembly proceedings and resolutions further identifies new political genres produced among Syntagma Square protesters.

Chapter Six “the Occupy Assembly” discusses the mechanism of the General Assembly during the Occupy movement, an experiment of direct participatory democracy adopted by protesters for decision-making. Compared with previous chapters, this chapter emphasizes the innovative nature of embodied semiotic strategies during general assemblies. Strategies such as hand signals and the human mic “facilitate a discursive praxis of egalitarianism within the context of a speech exchange system suited to a large outdoor deliberative body” (p. 127). The bottom-up and autonomous emergence of these strategies presents a sharp contrast to the traditional political system.

Finally, Chapter Seven “Spatial Practices and Narratives” turns to flexible forms of political mobilization (e.g. flash mobs) and their implication for the construction of new political spaces. Through studying the “GenkiDama for education” by Chilean student activists, the chapter vividly demonstrates how narratives inspired by Japanese manga “Dragon Ball Z” reframed the conflict between the students and the government in Chile. Through an emotive discursive polarization, “GenkiDama for education” effectively mobilized a less politically defined community (manga fans) for political participation.


By attending to the less studied spatial dimension of semiotic practices, this volume presents an impressive attempt to capture the semiotic complexity underlying recent global protest movements. It also offers many insightful discussions on the complex interplay between discourse and space. Another strength of the volume lies in its theoretical integrity: the various aspects of Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) “social production of space” are well elaborated throughout the chapters.

For readers without sufficient background in political science and critical theory, some chapters in this book may be difficult to follow. Although to some extent this issue has been alleviated by the comprehensive overview in Chapter One, a brief appendix explaining key theories could still be helpful, especially for a volume targeting a broad range of readers. Meanwhile, the volume could also benefit from the addition of a concluding chapter that synthesizes the different theoretical threads in the case studies. Another minor issue is the organization of some chapters. Chapter Three and Chapter Five are thematically connected since both are based on the Indignados movement across Europe. The same applies to Chapter Four and Chapter Six. It seems that a reverse of Chapter Three and Four would make the volume’s argumentative flow more coherent.

Overall, the volume makes a valuable contribution to the field of discourse analysis and it would undoubtedly serve as an ideal reference and inspiration for researchers working on related topics.


Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.


Sibo Chen is a PHD candidate and SSHRC Vanier Scholar in the School of Communication, Simon Fraser University. His major research interests are language and communication, critical discourse analysis, and genre theories.

Page Updated: 12-Feb-2018