When Symbols Clash

July 13, 2012

When Symbols Clash: Legitimate, Legaility and the 2010 Winter Olympics

Karen-Marie Elah Perry (Unviersity of Victoria)

Helen Hyunji Kang (Simon Fraser University)

Link to article:

Mass Communication and Society, Volume 15, Issue 4, 2012, Special Issue: Olympics, Media, and Society


In February 2010, the Olympics descended on Vancouver, British Columbia. Between athletes competing for gold and a provincial venue with the highest poverty rate in Canada, a clash of symbols arose: those  deemed legitimate by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) and those deemed  illegitimate. The Games not only transformed the city's landscape, municipal laws, infrastructure, and social relations but also resulted in the concurrent transformation of the city's visual culture. As an explicit tactic, Aboriginal; antipoverty; environmental; anarchist; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists employed countersymbols to disrupt VANOC's plans. Through qualitative discourse analysis of photos and visual imagery, this article addresses social, historical, political, and economic issues tied to this clash of symbols, including the use of Aboriginal cultures in representations of Canadian nationalism; infringements upon civil liberties and freedom of speech that resulted from surveillance of activists and constraints to the arts; and visual counter-discourse produced by activists through demonstrations, posters,
and art.

Editors Note:

Karen-Marie Elah Perry and Helen Hyunji Kang investigate the potential negative effect created by the Olympic committee's control of published images of the Games and of the host nation. In this work the authors studied the efforts to silence anti-Olympic speech and demonstrations held in the area of the Games. Their critical analysis acknowledges compelling questions about where an appropriate balance might lie between protecting the interests of countries, investors, and the Olympic brand vs. the rights of local residents, businesses, and sub-populations that are physically, legally, and through hegemonic power, pushed into the thin margins of society to have any place at all to express their viewpoints.

Karen-Marie Elah Perry biography

I completed an MA in anthropology, with a focus on medical anthropology and the anthropology of science, in SFU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2010. I began working in the social sciences as a research assistant at the age of 18, initially assisting anthropologists with a variety of projects ranging from oral histories, to the experiences of women and children in squatter settlements in the Philippines, to the role of cultural factors in shaping the use of ultrasound on women’s bodies. As a consequence I had the opportunity to develop a variety of research techniques at a young age, including but not limited to: archival
research, qualitative interviews, census research, oral histories, the use of research software, methodological approaches to science as culture, ethnography, qualitative visual analysis, anthropological approaches to bioethics, coding, and data analysis more generally. Recently I received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to conduct an ethnographic study of medical nanotechnologies (molecular medicine) in British Columbia.  This work was concluded in 2010. My current research focuses on context rich approaches to bioethics (including attention to poverty and social inequality), medical and visual anthropology and emerging technologies in biomedicine.  I have worked as
an author, senior researcher and consultant and have trained students in a variety of research techniques over the years.  My most recent journal article focuses on visual resistance movements and the Olympics, and was written while concurrently protesting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Helen Hyunji Kang biography

Helen Hyunji Kang (M.Sc., University of Toronto, 2005) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. Her dissertation examines the emergence of and developments in the standards of scientificness and morality in Canadian professional medicine through a discourse analysis of medical journal editorials over the past century.