Activist identity as a motivational resource: Dynamics of (dis)empowerment at the G8 direct actions, Gleneagles, 2005.

‘Activist’ identity
as a motivational resource:
Dynamics of (dis) empowerment at
the G8 direct actions,
Gleneagles, 2005
Dermot Barr & John Drury
Department of Psychology
University of Sussex
Empowerment in collective action
Social and psychological importance
 Processes
– Intergroup dynamics: support, unity
– Collective self-objectification
Coping with disempowerment…?
Coping with potential
Activists’ cultural resources
 Meaning of events as contestable
Both of these are identity-related
Research so far has only inferred these
processes post hoc
 G8 Gleneagles as an opportunity to
examine definitions of a potentially
disempowering event across people and
 Background – scale of previous anti-cap
G8 Protests 2005:
a brief chronology
Saturday 2 July MAKE POVERTY
Wednesday 6 July MARCH TO THE
Our focus: The G8 Blockade
“Obviously the thing on Wednesday
morning was possibly the lowest point in
the week, we just trudged through the
wilderness overnight for quite a significant
distance, it was cold, it was wet, we
hadn’t really slept, we were all very
aggravated, and had been routinely
intimidated through the night by the
police, and in a very bad psychological
state of affairs.” (T4S1I7 N)
Participant Observation
 Semi structured interviews
 Cross-sectional
 Opportunity sample
 Longitudinal
Unity/Fragmentation (time 1)
“D: How would you describe the people that are
protesting, going up now and have gone up recently?
I think it’s a fairly mixed bag, you’ve got people here
who are protesting against G8, I suppose you’ve got
your kind of anarchists and the anti-capitalist movement,
and you’ve got things like Make Poverty History which is
going up to kind of just reform as opposed to
completely over-rule. So it’s quite mixed, and it is in
ages as well, mixed ages, completely mixed bag of
people.” (T1S2I2 So)
“obviously most people here are probably anti-capitalist,
especially for the G8 demonstrations now rather than the
demo before on the second,” T1S2I4
Unity/Fragmentation (time 2)
“there’s this pretension about being like a whole
collective” (T3S2I4)
 “the protest has changed to what happened
before at the other G8 meetings, it’s more that
you have a kind of official tolerated protest, this
Bob Geldorf kind of thing, which you know is a
meeting with, you know, making a conscious
decision between protesters and basically the G8
and but that takes away the you know it really
takes away the voices of the people who are
really protesting here” (T3S1I1)
Discussion and definition of
success/failure varies across
D: “What would you hope to achieve from this kind of
 Well, ideally blocking the road, (TIME 2)T3S2
 D: “ What would you consider a failure today, if today
was to be a failure, what would that be?”
 “A failure would be if they succeed more and more in
dividing the protest.” T3S1I1
 T1S2I1 D
 D: So what do you think the best outcome, what can be
achieved from the protests and what is the best outcome
that could happen?
 The best outcome would kind of be the obvious things,
such as lessening debt, more aid and stuff like that.
Discussion and definition of
success/failure varies with time
Time 1
D: So is that what you would hope to achieve?
Ultimately, it would be great to stop the thing from happening
T1S2I2 So
Time 2
D: What would you consider a success or a failure for the protests
If we could just get a voice, that people be allowed to demonstrate
in the way that they feel is appropriate. T3S2I5
Time 3
I think that their hopes where that they might postpone or shut
down or cause trouble for the G8 taking place. And I think it did to a
certain extent it was more kind of taking back autonomy and power
from that meeting SO
(Dis)Empowerment varies across
D: Do you feel that these kind of actions are empowering?
D: How would you say that they’re empowering, I mean why are
they empowering? Is it numbers of the crowd, is it unity, is it . .
I don’t know, yes, it’s just
Female: It’s no good just giving a donation and waiting for
someone else to do it, we’re just here saying this has to be
changed, here and now.
Male: You just know that you’re doing the right thing, and no
matter what, even if you’re with the crowd or you’re not with the
crowd, you’re just doing the right thing.
D: Do you find these type of events empowering?
Not at the moment. Not right now. Generally, yes.
D: Why not right now?
Because we’ve been, all power’s been taken away totally from us at
the moment.
(Dis)Empowerment varies across
T3S1I3 SO Time 2
“but to be honest I don’t know whether to feel
more empowered or less empowered, because
it’s a kind of weird space we’re in because we
don’t really know what’s happened today.”
 So Time 3
 “Then that’s quite empowering so its either a
case of having an immediate goal that you can
see or knowing that you can work, that you’ve
got people that you’re unified with that you can
work together to have an eventual goal that
might be sometime in the future.”
Redefinition of aims
I think this is the main issue for me to come here, I think the main political
issues. But also the protest, the culture of protest, as well because we
should not forget what happened in Genoa and what happened to the
protesters and where we went from Seattle so that’s a global protest going
on all over the world
D: Why do you take part in things like this?
“Because I believe that everyone’s got civil rights.”
A Time 3
“Yeah it almost became a struggle between us and the police, us and the
state, yeah it was a much bigger bigger thing I think than maybe like us
against the G8”
D: Do you think then that it achieved what it hoped to achieve
P(S): “No. I don’t think it really did. In terms of getting groups, one of the
things that I think is the best thing about that kind of thing is that it got
groups together.”
(Sa Time 3) Inability to redefine aims
Prior to going I thought that we might achieve something, or we’d see an
actual sort of, you know, something would happen.
Reference groups
(N Time 3)
Then back to Stirling after blockading the road felt
extremely disenfranchising, but then in the evening
talking to other people and really getting an idea of the
picture of what had been going on, through working in
the media centre and receiving calls and looking through
the timeline the logs of what had been happening, I saw
that actually we had been very effective
There was stuff going on in Edinburgh, I believe, you
know, through our wonderful network of
communications, it seems that they managed to achieve
quite a lot, but, and keep it going for quite a long time.
Reference Groups
Sa Time 3
Int: What did you think of the idea of affinity groups
“I didn’t really have one”….
Int: So could you sum up the weeks events and what
they meant for you
Sa: The events didn’t mean very much cause I didn’t
think they were successful
D Time 3
“I just know from like my friends back home people from
people I talked to afterwards, my parents, they saw
what we were doing as a really like a bad thing that we
weren’t doing it for a purpose as such we just wanted to
kind of cause havoc. I don’t think the real reason got
across to everyone.”
N After)
D: The camp at Stirling, how important do you think that was.
P(N): I think that was very important. The temporary autonomous
zone, the zone that the camp took up, the area that the camp
occupied becamae a, the small little island of sanity amongst our
world, you really got to see an example of how society could be
organised. So that made the ideals of what you were fighting for
somewhat more tangible and therefore more real, because you had
this little example of an alternative way of working.
D: How important do you think the campsite was for the protests
P(S): I think it was very important. I think it was actually like the
very central part of the G8 protests. Because actually what it did
was allow activists to network with each other to understand each
others kind of ideas and opinions but it was also it gave you quite a
sort of sense of power cause actually you could see that you weren’t
standing alone that you were standing with how ever many other
people in one area.
CAMP(alice after)
And it was such a brilliant buzz on camp to see that we were living
this kind of I don’t know anarcho-syndiclist dream.
Yeah Stirling yeah
D: And what did you think of the atmosphere there and
how did that make you feel?
 P(D): It was quite on guard all the time, probably cause
the police were obviously around all the time and there
was quite a lot of am very like groupy very kind of
cliquey different groups kind of planning different actions
am so it made you feel like part of it if you were in your
own group I guess but if you weren’t you felt kind of
like on the outside
 CAMP (Sara After)
 There was a lot of fear within the camp which was
unnecessary and it seemed like more people spent their
time worrying than taking any action.
Identity as lens for evaluation
Little unification
 Some participants were able to redefine
aims reflecting social identity
 Participants used different reference
groups reflecting social identity
 Participants valued Stirling campsite
differently reflecting CSO
Identity as a lens for evaluation
Int: Have your experiences affected your
motivation in getting involved in other
demonstrations and other things?
 Well, I’m a die hard protester so …
 (O After)
Female: Yes, to network and you just want to be seen, want to get
involved, and what you are fighting for is actually, you’re on the right path
or something, T3S1I2
 A After
 “It will definitely change the way I feel about protesting and am just being
part of , I dunno I don’t want to label it as a counter culture or lifestyle or
just something but its just something I can see myself sticking with for the
rest of my life you know.”
 “I think that some of the demos that were the most empowering were not
ones that were kind of about a far off goal they were things like the reclaim
the streets demo because it was like right now this is our space and that
was more empowering because actually right now you were doing exactly
what you wanted to be doing. And you were achieving your objective by
being on the demo” So Time 3
 T3S1I2 A
 D: Was it, tell me why you’re involved in this.
 I’m . . . why am I an activist? Because I fucking love it
Activist identity operated as a motivational
resource in the interpretation of
potentially disempowering events.
 This allows participants to carry on even
when isolated
 It may increase their isolation