‘The 1974 Birmingham bombings: atmospheric envelopments, more-than human circulations, and affective (in)capacities’ presentation at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2023

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At the 2023 Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference in London, Sara Fregonese and Paul Simpson presented ongoing research on the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Based on archival and interview research, their paper explored the atmospheric effects and temporal reverberations of the pub bombings on everyday life in Birmingham.

Using the notion of atmosphere conceived as spatialised expression of a quality of experience involving humans and nonhuman agencies, the paper considered the violent disruptions and afterlives of the terrorist bombings of the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in Birmingham (UK) in 1974. Building on McCormack’s view of “atmospheric things” as “vehicles for geographical and narrative excursions” that generate affective capacities “continu[ing] to circulate in the present” (2014: 607), Fregonese and Simpson considered several meteorological envelopments and affective and political (in)capacities circulating spatially and temporally beyond the confines of the violent events. Building on previous historical research on the long-term impacts of the bombings on identity narration and urban memory discourses (Nasar 2020), the paper drew on a host of archival research in focusing on the interrelation of the material-atmospheric circumstances of the bombing itself and how we can trace their contingent radiation out into the city across space and through time. The starting point for the paper was the bombs themselves – their materiality, the mechanics and forensics of the bombs, and the (literal) shockwaves they produced in composition with the siting of their explosions – and the unfolding implications they had in terms of: escalating terror threat alerts, the emotional landscape of the immediate aftermath and its longer-term political and security fallout, the official recognitions of the city’s emotional restraint to preserve social cohesion, and more recent atmospheric circulations that instead failed to register. In this way, the paper drew attention to the contingent atmospheric propagations and affective (in)capacities that the Birmingham pub bombings have conjured up and how these continue to shape urban politics.