Time and Social Movements

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Kevin GILLAN, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
On 16th August 1819 60-80,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, ‘To consider the propriety of adopting the most LEGAL and EFFECTUAL means of obtaining a REFORM in the Commons House of Parliament’. It was brutally suppressed with 15 known deaths and 4-500 injuries, and soon dubbed the Peterloo Massacre (Hernon, 2006, p.28, 41). Peterloo occurred in a context of a sweeping economic crisis and protesters argued that Parliament, despite its democratic pretensions, was irretrievably wed to landed interests and would never therefore tackle the causes of crisis.

While it would be glib to draw too many parallels between newly industrialising England and the most recent wave of protest, this central idea that deepening democracy was necessary to address economic crisis was central too in the movements of the streets and the squares from 2010 onwards. This paper offers a hermeneutic frame analysis (c.f. Gillan 2008) of the pro-democracy movement signalled by Peterloo, which is suitable for comparison with what we already know from empirical studies of the Occupy wave. Through analysis of original pamphlets and flyers, eye-witness testimonies and journalistic reports I will detail the character of democracy demanded by the Peterloo protesters, as well as their justifications for it. I then address two sets of questions. First, to what extent are they consistent with more contemporary pro-democracy movements? Second, how do the dynamic temporal and political environments of these movements (or timescapes, Gillan forthcoming) affect the nature of demands and justifications. The latter will particularly allow us to consider how past pro-democracy movement successes, ossified in institutional representative structures, might provide constraints or opportunities affecting the discursive features of movements today. In sum, this allows a very long-term analysis of shifts in the ways radical democrats envision alternative futures.