Visual Surveillance and Direct Action Protest in the City of London

Kevin Biderman

PhD Viva completed 2019-2020

Kevin Biderman

Kevin Biderman: Direct Action Protest in the City of London

ABSTRACT

This thesis explores the relationship between visual surveillance and a new wave of direct action protest that emerged from 1983 onwards in the City of London. Due to the Square Mile’s notoriety as a global financial nexus, activists critical of capitalism have used this area to stage a number of large-scale direct actions since the 1983-84 Stop the City (STC) protests. As public order procedures developed and CCTV technology was installed, the Square Mile became conceptualised as a place of near ubiquitous police observation. This thesis scrutinizes four key points of protests where the City became an area of closely surveilled resistance. In doing so, it uses the City of London as a field site to explore how a movement of activists attempted to manoeuvre around visual surveillance structures through innovative protest formations and new technologies.

I posit this inter-relationship as a struggle between the creation of a commons by anti-capitalist activists and its enclosure by the forces of the state and capital. To develop this argument, I offer a detailed examination of visual surveillance and counter surveillance practice over the following protests: the J18 (1999); the G20 Meltdown (2009); Climate Camp in the City (2009); and Occupy LSX (2011). Over the course of these four protests activists developed choreographed, embodied movements and alternative technologies to open up a common space that countered new public order procedures and police surveillance. Politically driven artists, performers and technologists were at the vanguard of these new protest formations, early internet livestreaming and pioneering technical innovations which challenged existing surveillant structures. Conversely the City and Met police learnt new ways to enclose what they termed ‘extreme’ protest, through their own choreographed movements and the negative framing of activists via ‘public’ and internal communications.

While these police choreographed procedures and ideological frames were countered in innovative ways by activists, I argue another surveillance by capital was also taking place. This co-oped technological forms developed by activists, reterritorialising them back into formations used to reproduce capital and enact further surveillance on those who revolt. As this thesis articulates, over the course of these protests many activists’ inventions were slowly subsumed into proprietary online frameworks, which embed surveillance by default. As I assert this does not halt protest, it further complicates the relations activists have with the state, public communications and capital.