I was pleased to be invited to talk on Occupy at the opening panel of last week’s Peace History Conference, alongside Sam Walton (on the role of St Pauls), David Fernandez-Arias (on Occupy MCR) and Jacqui Burke giving us historical context with a reading of accounts from the Peterloo massacre.
There’s lots of video available from this panel and Saturday’s talks here: http://www.peacehistoryhub.org/
My talk focused on the ideological content of occupation as a direct action tactic. You can flick through the Prezi presentation on the left, hit the Peace History Hub for video.
From the editors’ introduction (with Jenny Pickerill):
This article explores a number of key questions that serve to introduce this special issue on the ethics of research on activism. We first set out the limitations of the bureaucratic response to ethical complexities in our field. We then examine two approaches often used to justify research that demands time consuming and potentially risky participation in research by activists. We label these approaches the ethic of immediate reciprocity and the ethic of general reciprocity and question their impacts. We note, in particular, the tendency of ethics of reciprocity to preclude research on ‘ugly movements’ whose politics offends the left and liberal leanings predominant among movement researchers. The two ethics also imply different positionalities for the researcher vis-à-vis their subject movement which we explore, alongside dilemmas thrown up by multiple approaches to knowledge production and by complex issues of researcher and activist identities. The overall move to increasing complexity offered by this paper will, we hope, provide food for thought for others who confront real-world ethical dilemmas in fields marked by contention. We also hope that it will encourage readers to turn next to the wide range of contributions offered in this issue.
We’re really excited about the range and quality of contributions to this issue. The full Table of Contents is:
The Difficult and Hopeful Ethics of Research on, and with, Social Movements
Kevin Gillan & Jenny Pickerill
Social Movements and the Ethics of Knowledge Production
Reflexive Research Ethics for Environmental Health and Justice: Academics and Movement Building
Alissa Cordner, David Ciplet, Phil Brown & Rachel Morello-Frosch
Ethical and Political Challenges of Participatory Action Research in the Academy: Reflections on Social Movements and Knowledge Production in South Africa
Marcelle C. Dawson & Luke Sinwell
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla: Human Rights, Activism and Academic Neutrality
Anne de Jong
Sisterhood and After: Individualism, Ethics and an Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement
Margaretta Jolly, Polly Russell & Rachel Cohen
Ethics, Activism and the Anti-Colonial: Social Movement Research as Resistance
Adam Gary Lewis
Disclosed and Willing: Towards A Queer Public Sociology
Ana Cristina Santos
Asking Tough Questions: The Ethics of Studying Activism in Democratically Restricted Environments
A Personal Reflection on Negotiating Fear, Compassion and Self-Care in Research
S. J. Creek
Here is the presentation from my talk at 6 Billion Ways, you can make it full screen and explore by clicking on items and zooming in and out (a scroll wheel is handy). Or use the controls in the bottom right corner to follow a pre-defined path.
If it doesn’t seem to be working here, try the external link to prezi.com.
Paper at: Workshop on method(s): challenges of on-line research.
This presentation will introduce Issue Crawler software as a methodological tool for examining hyperlink networks. The software identifies sets of websites with dense connections around particular issues. Generated data allows the use of social network analysis techniques to understand the structure of the web. The talk will identify some of the methodological issues raised by the tool and also present some data from a recent study of anti-war websites. Some of this work has been published as Gillan, K. (2009) “The UK Anti-War Movement Online: Uses and Limitations of Internet Technologies for Contemporary Activism,” Information, Communication & Society 12(1): 25-43.
Slides available from RICC Workshop on Methods website.
The European Court of Human Rights today issued its judgement on the case that Penny Quinton and I have been taking against the government over section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They have agreed that this piece of legislation offends against Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and does not contain sufficient safeguards for members of the public. 
The case stems from events in September 2003, when Penny and I were independently subject to stop and search under the Terrorism Act. We’d both been attending protests at the DSEi arms fair, myself partly for research purposes and Penny as an independent journalist. The campaigning legal firm Liberty agreed to take our cases and we spent several years going though the judicial review process, before finally taking it to the European Court last year.
To finally win is fantastic news and sends a very strong signal to government about the limits to what is acceptable in combating terrorism. Section 44 is regularly abused by police who find it convenient for general policing. The problem is the legislation itself, which is screaming out to be abused. The Terrorism Act encourages police to perform stop and search ‘for the purpose of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism’ (e.g. phones, maps, laptops, notepads, car keys) and ‘may be exercised whether or not the constable had grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind‘ (Section 44(1)). When challenged by those seeking redress for misuse of these powers the constable should properly claim in court that he or she had no suspicion of the person they stopped and searched. Another reply might risk saying something that could be perceived as discriminatory or otherwise unreasonable, so why make your thoughts public? This is indeed how the officers reacted when we challenged their use of the Terrorism Act against protesters – we just don’t know why we stopped them. The Terrorism Act makes it easier to search people than any other police power and officers are encouraged not to disclose (or indeed use) any reasoning. So its hardly a surprise that hundreds of thousands  of stops under this legislation have created suspicion and fear of the state, while not one has led to an arrest on terrorism charges.
News reports are now available from the BBC, The Times, The Guardian, and quite a few more!
 The full judgement is available here: Gillan & Quinton vs. The United Kingdom (4158/05).
 Elsewhere I’ve written about why the judicial review process is blind to certain kinds of systematic misuse of police powers.
 250,000 stops were made in 2008/9 and 117,278 in 2007/8.
Paper presented to the European Sociological Association General Conference, Lisbon, September 2009.
The academic publisher Reed Elsevier also organised the world’s largest defence exhibitions. The exhibitions themselves have regularly met vibrant street protests, and from 2005 campaigners targeted the corporate organisers. A coordinated network of anti-arms trade activists, academics, medical professionals and institutional shareholders formed a multifaceted campaign that sought to persuade the corporation to change its behaviour on its own terms. After initial intransigence, Reed Elsevier divested itself of its defence sector activities in 2008.
On the basis of interviews with activists and corporate employees, this paper addresses two sets of questions about the Elsevier campaign. First, what are the components of a successful, corporate-focused campaign? Insights from the recently expanded literature on the outcomes of social movements will be tested against both facts of this case and the conscious strategy pursued by participants. I will argue that the movement outcomes literature continues to cope better with movements demanding state responses than those directed at corporations. Secondly, therefore, this paper examines a set of broader questions about the character of moral demands placed on corporate activity, and the way in which management discourses of corporate responsibility or citizenship partially constrains the response of relevant decision makers.
You can download the presentation slides from: Moral Business Presentation (ppt).
Paper for presentation at the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference, 15-17th April 2009, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Direct action (DA) is often considered to be a tactical approach to protest, utilised in the service of a wide range of causes. More recently, the notion that DA forms the basis of a radical social movement of itself has gained some currency (e.g. Doherty, Plows and Wall 2003). This paper argues that we should rather understand DA as an orientational frame: a structure of normative beliefs that can form a guide to understanding and action in a variety of contexts (Gillan 2008).
Examining documentary sources on the British DA tradition and ethnographic data from recent instances of DA protest against globalisation and war, I identify the core beliefs that hold the DA frame together. Three elements in particular are identified. First, DA is based on a fundamental belief in individual freedom that motivates an evaluation of the individual moral culpability of both protest participants and their opponents. Second, DA groups have an attitude to decentralised, non-representative decision making that offers a particular understanding of democracy. Third, DA involves the re-imagining of political space as grassroots collective constructs free from systems of domination, that are consciously sought or created by DA groups.
Exploration of these key ideational elements will offer two benefits. First, we will see how the interaction and translation of ideas within particular contexts shapes the possibilities and constraints that movement participants encounter. Second, this analysis opens up possibilities for comparison with (and critique from) more obviously ideological structures of belief.
You can download a pdf version of this paper from: Direct Action, Democracy and Individualism (PDF).
Presentation at Medsin Global Health Conference, University of Manchester, 29th March 2009.
This talk was based on recent research into the campaign that persuaded Reed Elsevier to quit the defence sector. You can download the powerpoint slides here.
Short talk for the ‘Internet for Activists’ day organised at SOAS, 15 March 2009.
The purpose was to outline two different ‘ideal typical’ attitudes that activists typically bring to their engagements with technology. Within recent anti-war activism most people have approached technology as users, interested in the technology itself only to the extent that it makes the ususal organisational and communicative tasks quicker or more efficient. The talk outlines a few examples of the hacker attitude in action in order to show some of the possibilities inherent in stretching and blending communication structures. This is not to say that we must all become hackers, rather that an awareness of what we intend with technological solutions should help us approach technologies in an appropriate manner.
The slides for the talk are available here: SOAS talk (PPT, 740 KB).
This talk was a short version of a book chapter published in Net-Working/Networking: Citizen Initiated Internet Politics. A pdf version of the chapter is available here: Diverging Attitudes to Technology preprint.
Piece for ‘Peace News’ written with Jenny Pickerill.
This is a super-short summary of some of the research we carried out for Anti-War Activism and is available from the Peace News website.
Social movements contain structures of beliefs and values that guide critical action and aid activists’ understandings. These are worthy of interrogation, not least because they contain points of articulation with ideational formations found in both mainstream politics and academia. They offer an alternative view of society, economy and polity that is grounded in protagonists’ experience and struggle. However, the ideational content of social movements is often obscured by a focus on particular, immediate goals; by their orientation to certain forms of action; and by the mediated, simplified nature of their communication. Additionally, recent social movements display a tendency to coalition action, bringing a diverse set of political understandings in concert on highly specific campaigns. This conceptual article seeks an approach to identifying the messages within social movements that remains sensitive to their complexity, dynamism and heterogeneity. Through a critique of the concept of ‘interpretative frames’ as developed in social movement studies, I describe the novel concept ‘orientational frame’. In contrast to social movement scholars’ tendency to focus on instrumental claim-making by movement organizations, I emphasize deeply held, relatively stable sets of ideas that allow activists to justify contentious political action. Through an engagement with Michael Freeden’s morphological approach to understanding ideologies I attempt to draw frame analysis away from the positivistic attempt to delineate general processes into a hermeneutic endeavour more suitable to understanding the richly detailed, context dependent ideas of particular social movements.
This article is now published in Social Movement Studies, and is available here: Meaning in Movements. This is the final development of the ideas presented in this conference paper on hermeneutic frame analysis.
Chapter to be published in the forthcoming book, Net Working/Networking: Politics on the Internet, edited by Tapio Häyhtiö & Jarmo Rinne (2008, Tampere University Press).
This chapter works with the categories of ‘hackers’ and ‘users’ that have developed out of sociological analyses of the adoption of new technologies. These terms have sometimes been used to describe particular technological subcultures such as Sherry Turkle’s work on the mainframe hackers around MIT in the seventies. More generally useful, however, is the indications of particular attitude – what Graham Kirkpatrick describes ‘computational temperaments’ – that structure the ways in which people engage with technologies. In this sense, the notion of the ‘hacker’ may be of much wider relevance than those who carry out highly esoteric modifications in computers’ hardware or software.
This chapter explores these notions in relation to data gathered for a book on Anti-War Activism, asking to what extent user and hacker attitudes to technology were witnessed among activists opposing the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. As the book argues, many movement groups were steeped in a highly mediated information environment, making use various technologies to gather information, organise activity and represent their views. Mostly, as this chapter shows, activists engaged with the technology with a user attitude. That is to say, technologies were adopted in order to make use of their most obvious, advertised benefits. The chapter also details a number of cases in which activists have applied a recognisable ‘hacker’ attitude to the technologies they work with. In activist circles we see this attitude applied at the level of the communication system, rather than a particular device, and often with an explicit aim of creating a horizontal communication structure that transcends the intended uses of the system. It is those areas where activist groups differ most significantly from the intended market of technologies (usually businesses or public sector bureaucracies) where the hacker attitude seems to hold most promise.
You can download a preprint of the chapter here: Attitudes to Technology and Innovation, preprint.
You can find out more about the book from the E-democracy webpage: Net Working / Networking.
Article to be published in Information, Communication and Society.
Abstract:This article uses interviews with committed anti-war and peace activists to offer an overview of both the benefits and challenges that social movements derive from new communication technologies. It shows contemporary political activism to be intensely informational; dependent on the sensitive adoption of a wide range of communication technologies. A hyperlink analysis is then employed to map the UK anti-war movement as it appears online. Through comparing these two sets of data it becomes possible to contrast the online practices of the UK anti-war movement with its offline ‘reality’. When encountered away from the Web recent anti-war contention is grounded in national-level political realities and internally divided by its political diversity but to the extent that experience of the movement is mediated online, it routinely transcends national and political boundaries.
An electronic preprint of this article is available here: Anti-War Movement Online, Preprint. The authoritative final version will be available online at: Taylor and Francis, ICS.
With Jenny Pickerill, published in Australian Journal of Political Science 43:1, pp. 59-78.
Abstract: The upsurge in activism opposing wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to represent a significant process of transnational collective action. Using data collected through participant observation, interviews and website analysis this paper explores the role of the Internet in facilitating transnational activism between Australia, Britain and the United States. This research confirms Tarrow’s (2005a) assertion of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ – a primary commitment to locally contextualised action combined with a desire for transnational support. The Internet is used primarily for gathering news and for sharing symbolic expressions of solidarity. In Australia in particular, with fewer domestic anti-war resources online, international networking proves particularly useful. To an extent, online networks reach across both political diversity and geographical boundaries. However, online resources do not appear to enable the more personal connections required to build stable, working coalitions across borders.
An electronic preprint of the article is available for download here: Transnational Anti-war Activism Preprint. The published version is available from the Australian Journal of Political Science 43(1).
Paper presented to the 8th Conference of the European Sociological Association, Glasgow, September 2007.
Abstract: Significant activist groups see information and communication technologies (ICTs) as offering substantial potential in empowering social movements in organisation, mobilisation, and communication of their critiques and demands. Academic studies have begun to demonstrate some of the creative and technologically sophisticated uses to which activists have put new media. However, emphasis on the novel tends to overshadow the degree to which activists’ everyday lives are structured by interaction with new communications media. This paper analyses informational practices among UK anti-war and peace activists, demonstrating a far more complex picture of the value of new media to campaigning organisations. On the one hand, we see informational practices that utilise the manifest functionalities of new technologies as absolutely pervasive in contemporary activism. On the other hand, we see some activist groups discovering the latent functionalities of ICTs through stringing together multiple modes of communication or combining technologies with the social and political networks in which they interact. Through such practices activists produce relatively novel communication structures that potentially offer new ways of exerting the power of collective action.
This paper may be downloaded in pdf format from this link: Anti-War Activism and New Media.