'The Streets are the Battlegrounds': Occupation, Writing, and the Production of Space by Four Social Movements in Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York, 1962-1977

  • George Bickers

Student thesis: Phd


While the 1960s and 1970s have been intensely studied as eras of popular protest, few studies have focused on the use of occupation as a tactic, particularly in relation to anti-state activism. Fewer still have examined the role of writing within wider protest, and none as a form of occupation in its own right. This thesis seeks to reappraise protest action between 1962 and 1977 through a distinctly spatial lens, filling this critical gap with a focus on individuals and groups associated with or comprising four social movements: the Black Panther Party; the underground press; the Women’s Liberation Movement; and the Gay Liberation Front. During a time of large-scale national and international protest, these movements were unified by a praxis of occupation based on the ability to produce alternative spaces of power, community, and resistance. Following the Black Panther Party as the vanguard movement in this period, each group made use of physical occupation and writing as a means of producing spaces freed from the inherent repression and violence of the US state. The central questions in this thesis are informed by and respond to the use of physical activism and writing as forms of occupation. I seek to understand how and why people were contesting the state spatially in this period. Why were the spaces and territories in which the state reproduces itself and its power—almost exclusively located in its urban centres—so bitterly contested in this period? From the race riots of the early 1960s, through the civil rights movement, and into the late 1960s and 70s, protest across the US was marked by its urban locations. Focusing on Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York, this thesis seeks to understand how these four social movements conceived of these urban spaces as sites of state power and violence, as well as how they imagined them as sites of insurrection and liberation. Recognising that these spaces were contested and produced through writing and occupation, this thesis also pays particular attention to how these social movements sought to produce imaginaries of awakened and powerful communities in relation to these narratively transformed spaces. By answering these questions, the thesis reveals how and why these spaces were contested and imagined, as well as the centrality of occupation, and indeed the role of writing in those occupations, to four social movements. At its conclusion, this thesis will have demonstrated the central role that writing played as a means of occupation. This is the major intervention made in the thesis, building on extant scholarship of spatial production and showing the critical, and overlooked, role that writing plays in spatial production and territorial contestation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Fearnley (Supervisor) & Douglas Field (Supervisor)

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