Not a Spy – Challenges and Observations for Visual Sociology during the Umbrella Revolution

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Distributed Paper
Daniel GARRETT, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
As a competitive authoritarian political system on Socialist China’s periphery, adversarial politicization of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) - a deeply divided society resembling an intractable conflict – has significantly increased over the last five years in response to overwhelming One Country domination by the Chinese Communist Party and its patriotic oligarchs administering the city.  Symptomatic of rising subaltern resistance to hegemonic cultural, economic, and political oppression and continuing denials by Beijing of promised democratic rights for Hong Kong, the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 emerged following regime attempts to violently suppress a peaceful civil disobedience movement, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, that, in turn, led to a 79-day occupation of multiple sites across the city.  Albeit largely peaceful, additional episodes of regime-on-protester violence using local police, pro-regime vigilantes and organized crime vividly punctuated an otherwise symbolic contentious performance by Hongkongers whose figurative resistance campaign persisted well into 2015 despite regime clearance of occupation sites in late-2014.  Saliently, ringing the Umbrella Revolution and its predecessor civil disobedience movement was a broad hegemonic narrative of Western-led democratic color revolution, regime change, and foreign force intrigues behind the collective actions.  Notably, the author, apparently as a consequence of his participant observation and visual sociology research on China-Hong Kong relations under the rubric of moral panics, was falsely accused of orchestrating the uprising; ironically becoming a folk devil of hegemonic moral panic himself.  This paper discusses challenges, methodologies, and observations of the author, an American PhD candidate and former career national security professional, in conducting and depicting visual ethnographic research collected through off- and online field sites in the  HKSAR during and following the Umbrella Revolution.  The researcher is similarly situated in local post-Umbrella changes in protest culture and the political policing of pro-democracy visuality and counter-hegemonic visual resistance.