The Courts: Criminal Trials as Strategic Arenas

Graeme A Hayes, Brian Doherty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


In this chapter we analyze cases where social movement activists are prosecuted in the courts for protest actions. The courthouse is a significant arena for social movement strategy, a symbolic site for the arbitration of collective disputes, the legitimization of political action, and the production of social meaning; the court is “one of society’s most sacred institutions since its role in defining, interpreting and enforcing the law puts it in close proximity to the moral basis of society” (Antonio, 1972, p.291-2). The outcomes of trials depend on the organization of the criminal justice system but also the responses and strategies of multiple other players, inside and outside the court, including social movement activists, allies and supporters.
In common with the other chapters in this volume, our argument here is about “breaking down the state”, about thinking through the relationships of power and agency which define the interactions between state and non-state players. We seek to go beyond conceptualizations of state-movement relationships which might cast criminal trials merely as “state repression”, setting out the architecture of the court as an arena for political interaction and tactical choice, identifying the players who act within it, and arguing that more attention be given to the courts in analyses of protest action.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBreaking Down the State: Protestors Engaged
EditorsJan Willem Duyvendak, James M Jasper
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9089647597
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameProtest and Social Movements
PublisherAmsterdam University Press

Bibliographical note


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