Coronavirus, Crisis and Culture:

Policing, Protest and the Mediation of Dissent During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Editors: Ben Harbisher and Stuart Price,
Media Discourse Centre
Call for Chapters 

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Dear All – this may be of interest to members … deadlines, format, etc., scroll down

Global restrictions on protest 

In May 2020, the Bonavero Centre for Human Rights published an analysis of twelve nations’ response to the pandemic: the authors identified ‘a global rise in autocratic populism’ accompanied by ‘Covid 19 emergency measures’ that ‘risk becoming a foundation for greater consolidation of executive power’ (3). A month later, Amnesty International produced Policing the Pandemic, which drew attention to ‘systemic human rights concerns regarding institutional racism, discrimination in law enforcement and lack of accountability regarding allegations of unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials’ (4). In March 2021, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified over 230 anti-government protests in some 110 countries, with 25 significant protests aimed specifically at coronavirus restrictions.

This Call for Chapters from the Media Discourse Centre emerges in response to the worldwide limits placed on public protest during the last twelve months, and the social movements that have continued to mobilise in the face of these conditions. Contributors can discuss new manifestations of dissent, the adaptation of existing movements to political/pandemic restrictions, live and mediated events, and the online reconfiguration of the protest tradition (see below).

Controversies and resistance 

Events such as the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, and the global call to end racial inequality, have shown that protest in this era was not monopolised by the conspiratorial Right, and that the articulation of alternative social visions has not been curtailed by ‘lockdown’ legislation. Yet, although widespread condemnation of the use of ‘discretionary’ powers, exercised for example against women attending the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common (13 March 2021), seemed to presage renewed resistance to state interference, it may not prevent the creation of draconian restrictions on protest in the UK and elsewhere (Allegretti and Wolfe-Robinson, 2021). A substantial drift towards authoritarianism was notable pre-Covid, but the pandemic seems to have exacerbated this trend, within ‘democratic’ systems, in repressive nations like China, and in countries like Brazil that have emerged from dictatorial regimes but have in this period repurposed repressive laws to stifle dissent (Human Rights Watch, 2021).

In some nations, there was also clear conflict between national and regional authority, evident for instance in Spain, where in October 2020, the Government enforced restrictions on the region of Madrid, and in Britain, where the Tier System and the disbursement of recovery funds seemed inequitable. Yet obvious state intervention in this period, against visible signs of public dissent, are mirrored by the control or ‘private’ life and increased workforce surveillance through modes of technology (from Amazon workforce tracking to the monitoring systems within Microsoft Teams) that employees were forced to endure.

A range of issues and movements 

During the lockdown, a range of social movements and political causes became visible, either in direct response to official limitations, or in spite of them. Some were longstanding campaigns that gathered renewed momentum, and some (such as the Clap for Carers phenomenon), were enthusiastically promoted by Establishment figures as a means to promote social cohesion. Right-wing protests over lockdown measures, intended as direct challenges to formal authority, included the UK’s ‘Freedom Festivals’, advertised throughout social media, which (state actors claimed) had been appropriated by the Far Right. Groups such as anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers emerged, and there were numerous demonstrations in London at the closure of Gyms. In the UK at least, the blanket ban on gatherings rendered all forms of protest illegal, but inconsistent policing and vague public policy led to the variable application of new laws. In the United States, the first ‘armed invasion’ of a state facility took place in the Michigan Capitol, after the Governor introduced emergency measures to control the spread of the pandemic (Beckett, 2020).

In the UK, despite the questionable legal grounds on which a national lockdown had been imposed, fear and acquiescence dominated public discourse during the initial curfew. On the one hand, nearly all collective public activity had been prohibited, and on the other, strategically crafted messages were disseminated via public institutions and by the mass media to propagate compliance (Dagnall et al, 2020). To ensure that key political messages were ubiquitous, opposing posts on social media were sometimes lumped together, condemned as irresponsible or conspiratorial, and consigned to the lunatic fringe. A range of organisations were established during the pandemic to counter subversion and regulate communications, and the threat to ‘infrastructure’ from malignant forces was woven into the discourse of securitisation (CPNI, February 2021). Besides over-priced PPE, popular opinion became the UK’s most valuable commodity, and disinformation became the new sedition – censured by normative convention and by deliberate state intervention under the rubric of media literacy and the war against ‘fake news’ (Ofcom, 2021).

Academic disciplines and fields of study: 

Social movement theory, state and corporate analysis, feminist internationalism, policing and surveillance studies, class analysis, media studies, intersectional organisation theory, digital labour and resistance studies, critical management studies, trade and industrial union theory, discourse and multimodal analysis, libertarian left and revolutionary critiques, regionalist and independence studies, race and post-colonialist approaches, cultural studies, comparative and historical studies, economic theory, and queer theory.

Topics for chapters may include specific or general examples: 

George Floyd and U.S. BLM protests

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue

Anti-lockdown demonstrations in Europe (Netherlands, France, Spain, etc)

Mutual Aid and foodbanks in Communities

Managerialist recuperation of pandemic collectivity (mindfulness/CBT, etc)

Antifa in the U.S.

XR protests in the UK

The Sarah Everard vigils

Echoes of the Arab Spring

Transnational online protest events and organisation

State Repression in Brazil

International LGBTQI organisation

‘Minority’ unions and syndicalism under Covid (IWGB, IWW, UVW)

Anti-Putin mobilisation in Russia

Clap for Carers and the ‘slow handclap’ against government

The Sardines Movement in Italy

European antifascist mobilisation

Agitation for Universal Basic Income

The worldwide Feminist General Strike

General Defence Committees of the U.S. IWW

The heritage, public statues and ‘woke’ controversies

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong

The repression and coup in Myanmar

‘Taking the knee’ as a symbol of global solidarity

Fascist mobilisation and state collusion: Proud Boys, Trump and the Alt-Right

Left and Right-wing Militia protest in the U.S.

Physical state/police response to public protest

Whereas mainstream coverage of the crisis has focussed on factors such as maintaining social cohesion, the effectiveness of official ‘messaging’, and opposition to ‘fake news’, this submission explores the various modes of collective resistance, made in response to a variety of attacks (open or insidious) on: civil liberties; human rights; working class autonomy; BAME communities; activist health workers; and women’s organisations. The volume highlights, therefore, the increase in policing, surveillance and supervisory practices, and the innovative ways in which contemporary social movements have organised their response. The book questions the legitimacy of authoritative sources such as the BBC because of the profound lack of the ‘investigative’ impulse that should characterise news organisations. 

Proposal for Chapters 

The edited volume will be published in the Protest, Media and Culture Series by Roman Littlefield International. We welcome submissions that examine coronavirus laws and their impact on public dissent from an international perspective, and invite contributions from a range of disciplines (see above).

Please send an abstract of the proposed piece at 300 words maximum, and a brief bio of 150 – words to Ben.Harbisher@dmu.ac.uk and sprice@dmu.ac.uk – no later than Friday 30th April 2021. Feedback will be provided shortly after that date, with draft submissions due 1st August 2021.

 

Stuart Price
Professor of Media and Political Discourse