For the latest in my perodic series of Q&A type blog posts talking to interesting people doing exciting things around photography, history and visual culture, I was lucky to be able to catch-up with academic geographer Hannah Awcock to talk about her research.
I came across Hannah’s work when a UCU comrade sent a me link to “Stickin’ it to the Man: The Geographies of Protest Stickers” (open access) which was recently published online in the Royal Geographical Society’s Area journal. Anybody who follows me on social media (Instagram in particular!) will know that I am a keen documentor of the left/left-adjacent protest stickers activists put up in public places to advertise and support campaigns and causes. My interest in these stickers is primarily political and aesthetic, I am fascinated by which groups choose certain graphic styles, sets of imagery and slogans, and by how these elements recombine and change over time. Hannah’s work is focused more on the spatial aspect and significance of how, why and where stickers are placed and end up where they do. So, alongside the chance to reach-out to a fellow protest sticker fan, it is really fascinating to read and share insights from her work.
How did you first come to be interested in protest/political stickers?
The summer after my undergraduate degree I went to a conference at the University of Brighton that Catherine Tedford was presenting at. She gave an excellent presentation about stickers, and from that point on I was hooked. I started to notice them wherever I went, and then I started to photograph them. I became fascinated with the huge variety of protest stickers, and the way they interact with public space. Catherine runs the stickerkitty.com blog.
What led you to decide to undertake a research project looking at stickers?
In a way, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I started taking photos of protest stickers in 2014. As my collection built up, I realised that I was developing a substantial archive that could form the basis for an academic project. Also, the more people I spoke to about it, and the more positive feedback I got on my blog posts about stickers, the more I became aware that I wasn’t the only one who was interested. I realised that there is an audience for research on the topic.
When it comes to political causes are there any ones whose partisans you’ve discovered are seemingly especially likely to use protest stickers as a medium?
Anti-fascist and anarchist groups are some of the most prolific stickerers around. Anti-fascist groups in particular tend to be quite localised (most major towns and cities have an anti-fascist group that is named after the place e.g. London Anti-fascists, Brighton Anti-fascists, Bristol Anti-fascists), so they put up a lot of stickers in their local area and also when they travel to other places for meetings and demonstrations. In this way, stickering can be a territorial process.
More recently, groups opposed to the Covid lockdowns and vaccines have been prolific in their stickering, both in terms of the variety of designs and the number of stickers they put up. Luckily they also tend to be defaced and removed quite quickly!
Are there any locations where people tend to sticker more than others?
The bigger the town or city, the more stickers there tends to be, both in terms of variety and amount. Generally, there are more stickers in city/town centres and commercial areas then residential neighbourhoods or industrial areas. They also tend to cluster around transport hubs (e.g. train stations).
Have you noticed any patterns in terms of where particular partisans of particular issues, causes or political persuasions tend to sticker?
Some stickers do cluster in particular areas, for example you find lots of stickers related to student politics and education around university and college campuses. One person can put up a lot of stickers, so sometimes you will find quite a few stickers on the same issue in a relatively small area, and think “this is the work of one or two people in one stickering session.”
Are there any styles or designs of stickers which you especially like or find aesthetically appealing?
I always get a little thrill when I find a sticker design that I haven’t seen before. I like stickers that are creative and/or witty, that play around with words and images. There is also something special about handmade stickers, especially when a lot of thought and care have gone into their designs.
What’s next for your research into protest/political stickers?
There are so many directions that I would like to take this research in! I am currently a co-authoring a journal article about the practices of stickering with a colleague at the University of Edinburgh. Beyond that, I want to interview people who make, distribute and put up stickers to get more of a sense of what they mean to the people who use stickers as a protest tactic. And I would love to get my archive catalogued and available online for anyone to use. I have more than 5000 images of stickers which are currently organised by location, and it would be great if more people could make use of it, and it could be searched according to other things, such as topic, political position, whether or not it has been interacted with etc.
About Hannah: Dr. Hannah Awcock is a University Teacher in Human Geography at the University of Edinburgh. She completed her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2018. The PhD thesis is entitled Contesting the Capital: Space, Place, and Protest in London, 1780-2010 and can be downloaded here. Hannah is interested in the historical, cultural, political and urban geographies of resistance, both past and present. Currently, she is researching the geographies of protest stickers. Her latest article was accepted for publication in Area in April 2021 and is entitled ‘Stickin’ it to the Man: The Geographies of Protest Stickers’ (https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12720). She blogs at TurbulentLondon.com.