Spaces of Resistance

In “Happy Objects,” Sara Ahmed argues that happiness is affective, meaning that “to be happy is to be affected by something” (29). Ahmed shifts happiness from a body-centric and body generated response, to a response to a contingent proximity between yourself and objects around you (31). By stressing that happiness is produced by being “directed towards” happy objects and in “contact with” those same objects (32). By moving away from understanding bodies as the producers of happy/good and unhappy/bad feelings, Ahmed redefines figures like the “feminist killjoy,” or the “melancholic migrant” not as producers of bad emotions, but rather as exposers of “the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public sings of joy” (39). The consequence of this step is that the “troublemakers” become the source of necessary truth. People do not cause bad feelings, rather bad feelings exist beneath the objects we are taught to believe are happy, and people can expose those feelings by finding happiness in different objects. We are taught what is happy by many different sources; Ahmed specifically focuses on the role of the family in promoting one life-path towards happiness. Implicitly, cultural objects seem to be another source of our knowledge of what is happy as Ahmed devotes a sizable portion of the second part of her essay to film analysis. In Ahmed’s analysis, family and culture are able to maintain control over the trajectory of happiness by “creating the very illusion that we are free to deviate from its line” (44). The suggestion appears to be that any emotion of freedom we have is not truly a move away from the predetermined line of happiness unless we are labelled a “feminist killjoy.” Real resistance to dominant forces is easily spotted, and labelled as unhappiness when in reality it is just different happiness. This understanding begs the question, can freedom be happy?

Michel de Certeau seems to believe it can, or at least certainly that it is not always negative. While a person’s moves away from traditional happy objects is quickly spotted in Ahmed, in Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City,” resistance is much more subtle. Certeau argues that the idea of “the city” is created by institutions—both governmental and corporate—that take a “birds-eye-view” macroscale perspective on what the city is, and what living in the city is. Through maps, data-collection and route planning, these institutions try to assert control over a person’s engagement with the city space, and the idea of the city. However, people always move in individual and tactical ways that break with these planned moves. Each person makes the space their own, just as we make language our own, and try as they might, institutions cannot fully control the way people appropriate the environment of the city.

Yet, in making this argument, Certeau’s and Ahmed’s arguments seems to converge. Certeau goes as far as saying that the “discourse that makes people believe is the ones that takes away what it urges them to believe in” by “creating a void” (106). He calls these spaces “local authorities.” These spaces of freedom are created by the overarching structures, like Ahmed’s illusory freedom. Certeau does state that these local authorities come to be despite institution’s best efforts, so he does find them to be legitimate spaces of action that breaks with overarching plans. But doesn’t the very localized nature of these spaces actually support institutions? To put it differently, if resistance exists in these predefined bubbles, doesn’t that deincentivize action because you could just say, “oh, here we are free; that is enough”? Perhaps the work of those who make visualizations must be to show the localized nature of these spaces of resistance, rather than to chronicle anything with a macro, institutional perspective. By doing this, perhaps the reach of these spaces can be expanded.


This work combines the streetview technology we looked at with historical images to show what pedestrians have been walking through in different centuries: