Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The Courts: Criminal Trials as Strategic Arenas


The Courts: Criminal Trials as Strategic Arenas Thumbnail



In this chapter we analyze cases where social movement activists are prosecuted in the courts for protest actions. The courthouse is a significant arena for social movement strategy, a symbolic site for the arbitration of collective disputes, the legitimization of political action, and the production of social meaning; the court is “one of society’s most sacred institutions since its role in defining, interpreting and enforcing the law puts it in close proximity to the moral basis of society” (Antonio, 1972: 291-292). The outcomes of trials depend on the organization of the criminal justice system but also the responses and strategies of multiple other players, inside and outside the court, including social movement activists, allies and supporters. In common with the other chapters in this volume, our argument here is about “breaking down the state,” about thinking through the relationships of power and agency that define the interactions between state and nonstate players. We seek to go beyond conceptualizations of state-movement relationships which might cast criminal trials merely as “state repression,” setting out the architecture of the court as an arena for political interaction and tactical choice, identifying the players who act within it, and arguing that more attention be given to the courts in analyses of protest action.


Doherty. (2015). The Courts: Criminal Trials as Strategic Arenas. In Breaking Down the State: Protesters Engaged (27 - 51)

Acceptance Date Dec 1, 2015
Publication Date Dec 1, 2015
Pages 27 - 51
Book Title Breaking Down the State: Protesters Engaged
ISBN 9789089647597
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations