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Strategies of Secession and Counter-Secession

Socialising Crime: Biography, Legitimacy and Collective Memory in the Criminal Defence Strategies of Social Movement Activists

Graeme Hayes
Aston University
Graeme Hayes
Aston University

My paper uses data from the statements made by the defendants on trial in Colmar (2011) and (prospectively) Dendermonde (2013) for their participation in anti-GMO actions. I seek to analyse how defendants socialise crime, through the narrativisation of their participation in civil disobedience actions. I argue that, first, they place it within a collective memory of struggle that is also a personal memory, located in their own family histories, and activated by a transformative biographical event; and second, by they place this memory within a legitimising activist tradition, constituted by the activation of this collective memory, organisational boundary work, and collective claims to legitimised ‘ways of doing’. In this way, activists on trial seek to socialise their actions by constructing narratives of legitimation, which are both personal / individual and public / collective.

I argue therefore that analysis of defendant strategies affords us greater understanding of the cultural work that social movements do in order to develop specific cognitive praxes through the adoption and adaptation of new protest strategies. It also affords us greater understanding of the symbolic stakes of activist trials. More than simply seeking to maximise the direct instrumental outcomes of the criminal justice and public policy processes, defendants seek to normalise contentious and unusual ‘ways of doing’ by inscribing them within available and legitimised cultural narratives of struggle. The stakes of the trial process are thus as concerned with contesting the discursive boundaries of the doable as they are with the finding of fact or the challenge to policy enactment.
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