Mapping revolutionary ideology onto urban space as a means of strategic communications

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: War Studies


The role of communications in conflict, revolutions, and counterinsurgency has over the past years received increased attention with the emergence of a strong focus on 'strategic communications' in not only the academic study of war, but also in practice and policy making of national governments and international organisations such as NATO. This 'strategic communications' is not confined to the verbal sphere, but also includes communication through physical acts and the way in which these are depicted in pictures and the written word. An essential aspect affecting the way in which audiences interpret these messages is the space in which they are sent and interpreted. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre states that space is not merely providing the physical theatre in which wars are fought and messages are sent and received, but has an intrinsic value in itself and plays an operational and instrumental role in communicating one's revolutionary ideology and strategic messages to the audience. Furthermore, as identified by David Kilcullen, conflicts are increasingly fought in urban areas, which has incited a shift in focus from the control of geography to the control of networks of people. Even though current trends of urbanization and the effects this has on conflict have become an important topic in the field of war studies, a study moving beyond communication in urban space to the communication of urban space in revolutions, derived from the idea that space can play an instrumental role itself, has not yet been performed. Hence, this research proposes a study of the mapping of revolutionary ideology onto urban space as a means of strategic communications. Focusing on one of the early cases of urban revolution, the anti-Apartheid struggle of the African National Congress (ANC) in South African urban areas, it aims to answer the following research question:

How did the African National Congress employ the urban space of Soweto, Johannesburg as a means of communicating ideology and strategy to achieve their revolutionary goals?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1916144 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2021 Jente Marit Althuis
Description Before discussing key findings, it is important to note that this research project is still a year away from completion. However, several preliminary and expected results can be noted:

- This research explores the role of the built environment as a channel of strategic communications. Previously unexplored in academic literature, it has so far proven to be an avenue of research that deserves further attention. Specific new research questions will be generated upon completion of the project.

- Focusing on audience central models, the primary method of data collection employed in this project is 'narrative enquiry'. An extensive dataset of narratives about the built environment in Johannesburg is being established which, after completion, will provide a valuable resource for researchers from different fields engaging with the built spaces of Johannesburg.

- The project is exploring a method referred to as 'narrative mapping' to visualise the spacial underpinnings of narratives developed during Apartheid in Johannesburg. This method is relatively new and has so far not been employed in this context. A successful application can aid both the development of the method and its further application in the field of strategic communications.

- The majority of the research process has taken place in Johannesburg, South Africa, through collaboration with researchers at universities and research institutions in Johannesburg and other South African cities. Furthermore, it engages with non-academic actors, including local and national authorities involved in the governance of contemporary Johannesburg. This network will be valuable in communicating research output and the continuation of research on urban spaces and strategic communications in Southern Africa.

- Upon completion, the research project aims to produce a thorough timeline and understanding of the development of spatial narratives over time and the actors involved in this process in Johannesburg. This knowledge contributes to a better understanding of contemporary narratives of space and movement in the city, providing input to improve policies on safety and governance in urbanised areas.
Exploitation Route -
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy