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Publication Detail
The Gentrification of Protest: A study of governmental forms of activism in East London
Hackney Council is an inner London local authority with a reputation for political activism rooted in socialist values. As part of the legacy for the London 2012 Olympics, the borough received significant investment for large scale infrastructure developments. However, despite branding itself as a progressive ‘campaigning’ council, contentious claims of gentrification by class and racialised status have emerged from many of the borough’s residents. This inquiry is a study of a form of institutional activism where local authority museum workers engage in cultural practices designed to invoke progressive social change. It argues that conceptualising contemporary processes of “gentrification” primarily as a tool of residential displacement is an error. The phenomenon has evolved to include a form of cultural displacement and symbolic violence perpetrated against grassroots communities. It also suggests that in adhering to the paradigm that governmental power cannot be “activist”, institutions are rendered through a similar rigid lens. This thesis proposes that state-funded insiders possess a unique form of political agency that is only realised when working in long-term, active partnership with grassroots outsiders. This research utilises a decolonising methodological approach that co-produces knowledge with Hackney’s various communities of activist practice, especially those of African heritage. It studies the organisational culture of the Council through participant-observation based at the Hackney Museum and its Antiuniversity Now project. It examines neighbourhood conceptions of political agency and investigates how the local authority museum’s use of formal and informal coöptation enables community challenges to unpopular council policies using countercultural exhibitionary forms and practices. It concludes with a proposal based on ethnographic findings that relay how grassroot outsiders conceptualise institutionalised activism. Moreover, how such practices can result in exhibitionary praxis without being compromised by bureaucratic procedure.
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