Research Seminar: Activist and protest panel

Research Seminar: Activist and protest panel

Location: Stage one, stage@leeds, University of Leeds

Please book a place with Linda Watson

Professor Paul Routledge, School of Geography, University of Leeds 

Space Invaders: power, politics and protest

This talk will examine the contribution a strategic spatial logic brings to the understanding and prosecution of protest.  Drawing upon a range of protests and campaigns in different parts of the world, some of which the presenter has been involved in, the talk will examine ten sites of activist intervention that are directly related to a particular protest’s concerns, goals, and broader strategies.  A consideration of these sites also illuminates a range of ‘powers’ involved in social movement practices.


Paul Routledge is Professor of Contentious Politics and Social Change at the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. His research interests concern protest, social movements, geopolitics, climate change, social justice, and the environment. His work has been marked by interests in the spatiality of social movements and the practices of scholar activism. He has conducted research and critical engagement in Europe, Asia and Latin America. He is author of Space Invaders: radical geographies of protest (2017, Pluto Press).


Dr Aylwyn Walsh, School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds

The Breach: Fugitivity as/and resistance in Orange is the New Black

The extraordinary popularity of Litchfield Penitentiary in the public’s understanding of women in prison allows for a critical examination of some of the central concerns of carceral geography. I use performance as a means of analysing representations of prison protest via gesture and space.

The paper starts from the carceral logic of racism, which has been well rehearsed by Michelle Alexander, Loic Wacquant and others. I offer a reading of Netflix series Orange is the New Black, focusing on the storyline of prison revolt: in particular, a breach of the perimeter fence from season 2, as well as the climactic inmate death caused by an officer’s excessive force which results in an uprising. In addition to the breach, I will consider how standing becomes a powerful means of peaceful protest.

By focusing on how race constructs the women’s experiences, and the violence of Litchfield’s neoliberal regime, I consider how the series represents carcerality as well as how the women construct spaces of resistance. The foregrounding of race and representations in a mainstream series about prison can offer valuable materials for debating how institutions perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities for women. To do so, I draw on Stefano Harney & Fred Moten’s (2013) concept of fugitivity, which takes as its starting point a decolonial ‘refusal’ (Campt, 2015). Fugitivity flees containment. While the examples I offer here are about how the prisoners breach the perimeter, Moten & Harney theorise fugitivity beyond mere escape, but as an unfolding, processual perhaps elusive resistance of authority, that feminist thinker Tina Campt calls a specifically decolonial rejection of partial subjecthood.

Moten & Harney’s fugitivity is a methodology of resisting representations in popular culture as fixed meanings while at the same time acknowledging the structuring forces of institutions. This suggests a style that deliberately provokes – identifying and acknowledging the existing ways meanings are forged and critiquing their limitations. This allows for an opportunity to see characters, storylines and visual tropes as questions posed of and to the institutional structures of the prison industrial complex.


Aylwyn is programme leader of the MA in Applied Theatre and Intervention in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds. She has recently worked on interdisciplinary projects including the Arts of Logistics about the politics and poetics of infrastructures, counter-logistics and mobility. Her current monograph relates to Prison Cultures, mapping performance, resistance and desire in women’s prisons. At Leeds, she runs Converge – an engaged pedagogy project with Leeds Mind for mental health service users.

Some of her publications have been on arts and migration in Performances of Crisis, Capitalism and Resistance and Theory in Action; about protest in Qualitative Inquiry; Cultural Studies ßà Critical MethodologiesJournal of Arts and Communities. She has also published about arts and health Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance as well as prison and performance in Crime, Media, Culture; Contemporary Theatre Review. She was co-editor of Remapping ‘Crisis’: A Guide to Athens (Zero Books, 2014).


Dr. Jason Allen-Paisant, Leverhulme EC Fellow in the School of Modern Languages, University of Leeds

Misperforming the Law: Reconceptualising Memory in The Trial of Governor Eyre

The Trial of Governor Eyre is a theatricalized trial written by Jamaican lawyer Bert Samuels to judge Governor Edward John Eyre for his bloody suppression of the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) that claimed the lives of 439 Black Jamaicans. This paper examines the complex phenomenology of time that inheres within the theatrical piece: as a staged trial, it simultaneously involves two protocols of performance: theatrical representation and the social performance of justice and the law. It is both a work of the imagination and a juridical event bearing heavy stakes for the performers, spectators and other parties involved; a social and aesthetic drama of 1865 and the present that blurs temporality in peculiar ways. Drawing upon phenomenological theory (Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty, Charles W. Mills) and theories of trauma and (post)memory (Caruth, LaCapra, Hirsch), my paper investigates what the play-trial’s uses of time show about the experience of time itself in the context of colonial violence, and the way in which the play’s discourse on temporality contributes to its performance – or perception thereof – of transitional justice. In light of contemporary global movements for reparations and redress for unacknowledged colonial abuses, I propose that the Trial points to its own potentialities as a unique form of transnational postcolonial theatre art, one that might galvanise re-shapings of historiographical and archival space, and shift the balance of power in the “politics of memory” in which victims, descendants and the British state are caught.


Jason Allen-Paisant is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies. He works mainly on theatre and oral performance from the Caribbean region and his monograph on the theatrical works of Derek Walcott and Aimé Césaire, titled Théâtre dialectique postcolonial – Aimé Césaire et Derek Walcott, has recently been published with the Éditions Classiques Garnier.