Justifying direct action: Activist narratives in court

Relatori e Relatrici

    Graeme Hayes
    Aston University
Lunch seminar

Graeme Hayes, Aston University
Justifying direct action: Activist narratives in court

What happens when direct action activists are taken to court? The social movement literature is remarkably quiet, cursorily associating arrest and trial with repression, whilst social movements themselves typically see trials as either confirmation of state repression or as heightened moments of opportunity to ‘speak truth to power’.  In this talk, I draw on ethnographic observation of the trials of direct action activists in the UK, including the trials of Extinction Rebellion, the Colston Four, Palestine Action, and anti-deportation activists. I focus on how activists seek to justify their actions in court in these trials, and how their justification narratives are constrained (or sometimes enabled) by the operation of various forms of power in the courtroom. I argue that understanding the trial of activists requires attention to structural, legal, and spatial factors in the courtroom, and in the UK at least, that trials of activists primarily have a disciplinary and de-politicising function. In the courtroom, the right to freedom of expression is under increasing pressure, and is contingent on the de-centering of political speech. This calls into question what we understand by freedom of expression, and the range of arguments ‘freedom’ allows.