Activist Tactics: Performing Geographies of Social Change

Female holding an inflatable globe in two hands



Dr Aylwyn Walsh (Performance and Cultural Industries)

Professor Paul Routledge (Geography)


Activism is becoming a more significant arena for people pursuing social change. Once conceived of as the realm for a few dedicated individuals committed to pursuing justice, activism has become much more widely disseminated and practiced in everyday life. Scholarly work about activism is often predicated on historicising European practices, despite many significant movements emerging from the Global South, as explored in Paul Routledge’s latest work Space Invaders: Radical Geographies of Protest (2017).

Global social justice movements, including those focused on land rights; people organising against systemic racism and in decolonisation movements; and those working on labour rights draw on long histories and trans-cultural protest movements. Activism’s geographic grammars have included mapping alliances across contexts and organising skills sharing beyond local conditions (Bogad, 2016). Performance, on the other hand, enables crucial use of aesthetics, play and innovation in the field and in scholarly dissemination (Walsh & Tsilimpounidi, 2015; 2017). The commitment to interdisciplinary, international dialogue to share skills and knowledge forms the basis of this seminar series.

This series seeks to undertake an exchange of knowledge between activist educators in South Africa and colleagues in the UK, while maintaining the values of the particularities of place and locatedness in activist movements. We are interested in pedagogies and practical exchange between artists and activists. At this historical moment, land rights/ decolonisation is the background that frames and forms the optics for the issues to be explored.

Grassroots activism in South Africa remains focused on conscientisation and rights education. RhodesMustFall and other related protest movements in South Africa moved beyond student activist circles. What is of value beyond the specific contexts of the centres for activist learning such as Tshisimani (Cape Town) is how dialogue from a range of disciplinary perspectives can be productive. To this end, and beyond the specific locatedness of the core partner organisation, we are addressing the following questions:

  • How does the coming together of geography and performance studies generate possibility for new spaces for social justice and activism through public engagement and pedagogy?
  • How can we generate a pedagogical and practical exchange through the dialogue between arts activists from S.A. and the UK (grounded in lived experience)?

The seminar series moves beyond theoretical debates to explore connections and confluences in practice. Each seminar/event is grounded in public engagement, with engagement setting the agenda, core questions and future direction in collaboration.

Cape Town based organisation Tshisimani highlights the value and the values of the arts that enables a particular way of learning about and through activism. Human Geography and performance studies come together in dialogue. Both disciplines engage in processes of thinking through spatial, embodied practices that firstly constitute understanding of worlds, and secondly represent experiences of worlds. Together, they enable rigorous consideration of the tactics of activism.



Seminar 1: Space, diaspora and decolonisation (17 October 2018)

Seminar 2: Performance tactics and decolonising arts activism (November 14 2018)

Whole day workshop (May 2019)

 Disobedient Theatre, A toolkit for change (5th October 2019)