Article

Beyond the blue fence: Inequalities and spatial segregation in the development of the London 2012 Olympic media event

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Abstract

This article presents two cases studies of local resistance to the conscious effort of Olympics actors to use East London as representational space to produce and reinforce dominant nationalist and neo-liberal themes in the 2012 Olympic media event narrative. The blue Olympic fence, a 17.5-kilometre plywood barrier that encased the Olympic Park construction site, is used as a device in both case studies to explore the production and contestation of discourses of Olympic space. It is argued that the blue fence is both the subject and object of discourse about the purposes, values, impacts and flows of Olympics-led development. The first case study is an analysis of alternative representations of East London produced by local political leaders who found themselves on the wrong side of the blue fence and frustrated by the weak community engagement efforts of Olympic organizers. The second case study is an analysis of digital and transmedia projects and texts produced by local East London residents in response to the Olympic blue fence and the Olympic narrative it stood for.

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The affordances of social media technologies increasingly allow Olympians to directly communicate with global audiences. Olympians can thus become more powerful autonomous discursive actors, threatening traditional Olympic power dynamics that have protected lucrative Olympic media streams. And yet, Olympians have yet to use social media technology to fully exercise their autonomy. This article adopts a social construction of technology lens within a larger critical discourse analysis framework to analyze the reticent behavior of social media–enabled Olympians. It is suggested that their social media voices are constrained by a powerful set of obligations to their nation-state. These obligations can be understood as ritualistic deep play national proxy identifications, which are constructed and reinforced by Olympic policies and practices, as well as larger sociocultural contextual factors. This argument is explicated through an analysis of Olympics policy documents and case studies from the first two Olympiads, where social media had a major impact: the London 2012 Games and the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
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