Occupy Nova Scotia
This paper explores social movement occupation in terms of organizational relationships, and provides a theatre-based understanding as to how societal actors produce meaning in context of the territories they claim. We contend that the tools of dramaturgy (Goffman, 1959) help researchers to investigate how social movement actors face-off in engagements with competing occupiers, politicians, and other dramatis personae. This paper extends debates concerning the ‘right to the city’, an important concept related to spatiality since capitalist profiteering rights have problematically misappropriated all other rights in society (Pickerill and Krinsky, 2012). The overall motivation of this paper is to help facilitate an understanding of the Occupy movement, and to do so by focusing on its theatricality and the building of relationships with extra-movement actors. Unlike many Occupy papers that focus on high profile encampments such as those of New York and London, or on the Occupy movement in general, this qualitative paper introduces a small Canadian encampment that has mostly been ignored in the academic literature. Known as Occupy Nova Scotia, it was located in Halifax, which is one of the oldest colonial settlements in North America. This case shows what is at stake when co-claimants of a communal space use discursive tactics and dramatic symbolism in mobilization efforts.
A struggle occurred in Halifax when territorial traditions of war veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion competed with the putative home site of Occupy Nova Scotia. Specific commemorative space was claimed by the veterans to stage a tribute ceremony for fallen soldiers. The claimed territory was in a public space known as the Grand Parade Square.
Exhibit 1: Grand Parade Square Photo taken by drone technology,
and reproduced with permission of Servant, Dunbrack, McKenzie & MacDonald Ltd.
Pictured here is the home site of Occupy Nova Scotia. In the foreground is Halifax City Hall. St. Paul’s Church is at the far end of the square. The area in-between was occupied by tents of activists, and also by a permanent war cenotaph in the centre of the square.
In the context of the Occupy Nova Scotia encampment and its juxtaposition with the war veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion, we have chosen to label negotiations in the Grand Parade Square as ‘cooperative occupation’. This signals that occupational identity is in play for those claiming a right to this ceremonial and memorial space in the city. Thus, this term – occupation – is problematic. It signifies a variety of contested political actions that claim physical territory. But what happens when occupiers become occupied? This paper applies a dramaturgical perspective to study this question. The frontstage and backstage organizational moves of Occupy Nova Scotia appeal to history, symbolism and political pressure to negotiate space – a physical and cultural world that is made up of layers of formal and informal systems that organizational members seek to constitute and maintain. These boundary acts create limits not only on corporeal space but also for the more abstract notion of social justice.
It is difficult to challenge whole systems such as capitalism, although social movements are attempting to do just that. For example, Occupy Nova Scotia raised various questions about the character of capitalist domination, its construction and maintenance, challenges and resistance to its own and surrounding strata, and also its performance. In examining performance, this paper draws on notions from dramaturgy and the work of Goffman (1959) to explore how the right to the city (in its larger context of not only individual liberty but also social justice) is developed, maintained and contested. To explore the idea of occupation, as social actors attempt to create a home in the middle of the city, this paper wrestles with complicated questions as to who owns ‘space’ and the ways in which protesting actors demonstrate this through their bodies and organizing tactics of their movement. To that end, dramaturgy helps to reveal some of the symbolic and inter-relational aspects of organizing.
This paper shows how dramaturgical concepts of performing regions, performance and audiences, and stigma provide a deeper understanding of how societal actors produce meaning and social realities in the context of the territories they claim. This research also offers a framework for social activists to think about their relationship with capitalism, responsible organizing, avoiding stigmatization, and understanding competing claims.
To elaborate the theatricality of cooperative occupation, discussion in this paper proceeds as follows. First, Goffman’s dramaturgical framework is discussed as an appropriate means of studying organizational performances, and the primary concepts associated with dramaturgy that are used in this study are outlined. Second, the paper describes its qualitative research process that depended upon a variety of data gathered from direct observation at the Occupy Nova Scotia encampment, from on-line sources such as websites of Occupy and the news media, as well as ‘on the scene’ video documentation produced by occupiers of Grand Parade. Third, a working context of the Occupy Movement is provided along with a (necessarily partial) survey of the academic literature it has attracted. Then the empirical events that are part of the case study are described. This is not presented as a linear report of what happened and when, but performed with elements of the theoretical framework of dramaturgy. Finally, the paper discusses implications of the Occupy Nova Scotia movement and presents as a reading of the interface in-between alternative ways of organizational being.
Dramaturgy: A theatrical view of organizing
Dramaturgy is a qualitative research tradition developed from Goffman’s (1959, 1963a, 1974) notion of public social performances. It relies on the metaphor of theatre. Dramaturgy recognizes not only a belief in the theatricality of social life but also deals with dramatic elements that are fundamental to organizational processes. Social movement studies dealing with symbolic territory could benefit from considering artistic staging to enrich analysis and to theorize memorial spaces (Allen and Brown, 2016). Performance of social movements occurs both in the frontstage and backstage of organizational life. Therefore, it has been argued that a dramaturgical understanding of performing regions may act to surface informal power centres. As Smucker (2013: 220) puts it when discussing Goffman’s concept of self-presentation, ‘It behooves us to explore Occupy Wall Street’s backstage and not take its bountiful public performances at face value’. Dramaturgy enables researchers to get inside knowledge-making processes and promote deeper appreciation of tentative and creative elements which provide a framework for social transactions in organizations.
Scholars have applied dramaturgy to address limitations of instrumental foci and to not lose sight of symbolic resources for creating knowledge of organizational practices. This helps analyse the enrolment of actors, the scene, acts and plots producing what passes for social movement governance. Manning (2008: 677) notes that dramaturgical theory could benefit from organizational theorists taking Goffman’s work more seriously. Manning goes on to state, ‘Goffman’s ideas have been… a brilliant, unique and masterful evocation of the central dilemma – posed as a question – of modern life: what do we owe each other?’ The questioning of our debt to each other and to society is central to the Occupy movement.
This paper promotes dramaturgy as a robust theoretical framework capable of investigating the alternative expressive form of organizing used by Occupy Nova Scotia. Most theoretical models for analyzing ways of organizing have been drawn from mainstream thinking about bureaucratic entities. Such models tend to look at outcomes and spend much less effort at understanding how we got there (Weick et al., 2005). This issue, we contend, is appropriately addressed by dramaturgy, which provides a useful platform to understand the dynamics of bureaucracies as well as social movements. The tools of dramaturgy can be applied to politics and protest. Rather than ignoring political conflict or seeing it as something to be supressed, we agree with Pell (2014) that struggles for the right to the city have the capacity to teach us something about social justice. The authors of this paper are concerned to move Goffman’s dramaturgy beyond the normative category and demonstrate dramaturgy’s capacity for critique. Usually, actors in Goffman's writing would rather conform than fight back. They accept social and capitalist norms and seem prepared to inappropriately overlook struggles such as class and race discrimination, ageism, gender inequity and disparities of wealth. However, this paper attempts to show that dramaturgy does have capacity for critique. The possibilities for this are apparent in Stigma (Goffman, 1963b) and in the concept of Total institutions (Goffman, 1962). This paper registers a critical stance by understanding Occupy Nova Scotia with dramaturgical terms to expound upon the presentation of self in the occupation of the Grand Parade Square. For purposes of this paper, the following dramaturgical tools are fundamental:
- Performing regions: performances are given in particular places, including the frontstage which suggests cooperation with the audience, and a more private backstage. The idea of space is central to the Occupy movement.
- Performance and audience: refers to actors’ roles, supported by material such as scripts and costumes, and a personal front such as language and gestures. Performances compete for attention of audiences who, in the case of Occupy Nova Scotia, also participate in the performance – and the occupiers are part of the audience of their own performance.
- Stigma: refers to threats to organizational identity arising from discreditable acts, informing debates about how inclusive the Occupy movement has been.
Although there is a substantial body of social movement literature, the field has been under-theorized from the point of view of performance. Recently there has been a growth of interest in seeing insurgency, as well as commemorative space, as movements maintained by artistic theatrical performance, for example: meshwork staging of built memorial spaces (Allen and Brown, 2016), the dramaturgy of object-figures (Eckersall, 2015), the Occupy movement’s connection to the theatre (Jackson, 2012), precarious dance and politics of finance (Martin, 2012), and the Occupy movement’s symbolic politics of space (Nyong'o, 2012). This paper aims to join these conversations that have at their centre a concern for performance and its relationship with space.
Barry, Berg and Chandler (2012) claim that social movement theory has yet to make a significant mark intersecting with non-social movement entities. This paper takes-up this call by discussing the interaction of Occupy Nova Scotia, the Halifax municipal government and a war veteran organization. Farmer and Farmer (1997: 508) state that ‘failing to focus adequately on the bureaucratic in-between has been a natural mistake… the study of bureaucracy should have listened more closely to human experience – to poets like Kafka and Plato and even to bureaucratic outcasts.’ This paper pays close attention to the space in-between by seeing territory as a symbolic resource to help understand protest as performance of precarity. ‘Precarity is life lived in relation to a future that cannot be propped securely upon the past – or as some argue, life in capitalism’ (Ridout and Schneider, 2012: 5). In the case of Occupy Nova Scotia, precarity is dramatically performed not in a single proscenium-type theatre, but as many acts and scenes played as immersive theatre. Immersive style was originated by the British drama company Punchdrunk and welcomed in Canada with the National Elevator Project which presents short plays where the performing region is several working elevators located in local office towers. The audience chooses among various elevators then ascend and descend with the actors. There is no playbill or set running time. Indeed, as it is with Occupy Nova Scotia, it would be impossible to convey a set programme given the multiple nature of the relational enactment. The audience participates in the performing of the play, experiencing the social, like the Occupy activist, at the site of the relations with actors. In keeping with immersive theatre, the research process for this paper was open to dramaturgical experiences and collection of various texts. We use the term text as any performance, writing or object that can be ‘read’, including documents, symbols, communications, and virtual performances located on websites. The immersive research process is described in the next section, then the tools of dramaturgy are demonstrated as they apply to Occupy Nova Scotia.
The research process: Collecting drama in the study of a social movement
As discussed above, this study of the Occupy Nova Scotia movement adopted a method of analysis that draws on dramaturgy to show how social actors attempt to enrol others into their programme and collectively redefine power through dramatistic techniques. To be true to the theatrical framework, the data collection for this paper required multiple sources. First, we undertook to study the presentation of the Occupy Nova Scotia movement in the setting of social media. To that end, part of the research data consisted of YouTube videos publically available on the internet. These were posted by subjects of the research as well as the news media and other followers of the Occupy movement. Every directly related video that we could find was selected for analysis, i.e., videos that rendered any type of reading of Occupy Nova Scotia during the period of occupation of Grand Parade Square. As mentioned above, the Grand Parade is a space that serves as the site of the local war memorial. The physical site was to become contentious as Remembrance Day approached – an issue that will play an important part in the story to come.
Data were collected starting on October 15, 2011 (the first day of the Occupy Nova Scotia encampment of the Grand Parade), and continued for 28 days until the date of forceful eviction of the occupiers on Remembrance Day, November 11, 2011. During this time 34 videos were collected. Most of these were recorded by protesters using devices such as iPhones. These data enabled seeing through the eyes of the protesters and directly hearing their voices and stories. The videos were particularly useful since internet communication complements the theatrical mode of organizing used by Occupy Nova Scotia. The data collection included a variety of dramaturgical elements including verbal communication, symbols, gestures, facial expression, props, sentiment, physical space, rituals and other means of social interaction. The collected videos embodied cyber performances and helped to expose power relations and inform how the process of knowledge creation is communicated and enacted.
Secondly, the data collection effort included personal observation by the researchers at the encampment. The flows of relational activity were observed at the Grand Parade site from the first day of the occupation until the site was vacated. Although we did not participate in protest activities, we considered our presence and the recording of observations to be part of the messy associative performances on stage at the Grand Parade. The researchers did not enter the space with a particular theme in mind. Although several storylines emerged and were followed, the most evocative (and with the greatest potential to add something new to the Occupy literature) was the cooperative occupation of the Grand Parade Square by Occupy Nova Scotia and the war veterans – a shared production of their organizational being.
After the violent eviction of the Occupiers by the Halifax Police Department on Remembrance Day, there was very little public activity until May 19, 2012 when Occupy Nova Scotia held a solidarity rally at the Grand Parade. The rally commenced at twelve noon and Occupy Nova Scotia enacted a symbolic representation of its encampment, complete with the assembling and display of a miniature tent. We took the opportunity to collect further data because this General Assembly (GA) seemed to be a key piece of the organizing apparatus of the movement. In keeping with the dramaturgical research focus, we documented the GA with a video (two hours in length) recorded by the research team and 68 images which we photographed on-site. The object of interest for the photographs was anything that seemed to be artistic, for example, dancers, music paraphernalia, painting, signage, costumes, colour, etc.
A third stream of research data supplemented other traces of documented organizing of the movement. i.e., texts posted on the public website of Occupy Nova Scotia were reviewed. This included meeting minutes of General Assemblies and committee meetings, position papers, announcements, media stories, and Facebook and Twitter entries. When performing research which uses a variety of collection streams, it is difficult to decide when to stop collecting data – especially when the occupation was expected to continue for an extended period of time. The cut-off point for this paper was the Solidarity Rally of May 19, 2012. At that time sufficient data were available to support a robust dramaturgical discussion. From the large amount of data collected, we selected items that (1) helped tell the story of Occupy Nova Scotia since part of the research goal was to document and introduce this small encampment, a part of the global movement that hitherto has received scant attention, and (2) provided a dramaturgical perspective to study the frontstage and backstage organizational moves of Occupy Nova Scotia.
The next section provides a working context of the Occupy Movement, and turns to the specific scene of occupation to apply the dramaturgical tools of performing regions, performance/audience, and the concept of stigma.
The Occupy Movement and the encampment of Occupy Nova Scotia
Inspired by the indignados (indignant ones) who began in May 2011 with a series of protests demanding radical change in Spanish politics, and also growing from the preceding Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters have gathered all across the world to extend their version of home space, and to challenge capitalism. In Canada the anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, contributed to the movement by creating a new hash tag on twitter and promoted a poster showing a ballerina dancing on the back of a powerful sculptured bull; the bull being the iconic symbol for the stock market on Wall Street.
Exhibit 2: Ballerina on a bull. Photo from Adbusters
The ballerina on the Wall Street bull is quietly provocative. She gives an artistic and visual representation of the idea of occupation, and a feeling of drama and newness.
At Occupy Nova Scotia, a female occupier reproduced this idea with a precarious solo dance on top of a narrow concrete barricade that surrounds the Grand Parade Square.
Dance performances on unsanctioned surfaces extended the occupiers’ milieu and are a means of self-production (Martin, 2012). In Halifax, the dancing occupier’s milieu was spread into the busy downtown core. ‘Milieus cross, pass into one another; they are essentially communicating’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 313). The music, imagery, dance and laughter of the occupation reached out to competing milieus. Thus, the ‘99%’ (Juris et al., 2012) occupied geographic space in Halifax (and in social media) and created dramas that spilled-out into the streets and claimed an artistic right to the city.
This paper offers a contribution to the growing number of Occupy movement studies. The Occupy movement has attracted interest of academic researchers who question what we can learn from the movement (e.g., Halvorsen, 2012; Heath et al., 2013; Milkman et al., 2013). However, we do not wish to reify the notion that such political activity is novel. The basic idea of political occupation will be well-known to university students of the 1960s and 70s many of whom regularly engaged in ‘sit-down’ activities as a form of direct action against such things as the Vietnam War, university investments in apartheid South Africa, and feminist protests against how the mostly male staff of the Ladies’ Home Journal represented women’s interests. While benefiting from the Occupy ‘marque’, organizers of Occupy Nova Scotia would not want a single meaning to be taken from symbolisms (Khasnabish, 2013) such as the ballerina on a bull. Occupy Nova Scotia is a social movement of people with disparate concerns about the socio-economic and political nature of society. These concerns run the gauntlet from anti-capitalism; a search for alternative forms of organizational decision-making; and various fears about the way pressing environmental issues are being dealt with. This approach was consistent with the wider Occupy movement which fostered a complex and continuous diversity of approaches. The manifestation of this diversity is ‘why Occupy matters’ (Pickerill and Krinsky, 2012: 286). Precision of demands – getting too precise too fast – needs to be avoided in nascent movements in keeping with ultra-democratic organizational values (Smucker, 2013).
In October 2011 hundreds of people, responding to social media calls, turned up to stage a protest in the city centre of Halifax. The ongoing encampment included about 50 occupiers according to Khasnabish (2013), a direct participant in the occupation. The protest featured the pitching of makeshift tents, which like Occupy Wall Street symbolized a form of occupation. The protestors literally took over an area that is connected in local popular discourse with the governance of the municipality of Halifax. In the authors’ view, the Grand Parade could hardly be more saturated with the geography of capitalism and bureaucracy. The occupied space was in the heart of a symbolic quadfecta consisting of: (1) capitalism – the Toronto Dominion Bank and World Trade Centre across the street; (2) bureaucracy – Halifax City Hall at the North end of the Square; (3) nationalism and military patriotism – a prominent cenotaph honoring victims of war; and (4) religious establishment – St. Paul’s Church at the South end of the Square, the oldest Protestant place of worship in Canada which was historically a garrison church for troops stationed in Halifax. St. Paul’s official website asks the public to ‘bring before Him the needs of the world’. That is exactly what Occupy Nova Scotia did.
Discussion: Using dramaturgy to examine the politics of contested space
This section considers the specific scene of the Halifax encampment and applies several dramaturgical tools to create greater awareness of this small encampment and to examine what we can learn from the processes of this collective action.
Performing regions: Frontstage and backstage moves of Occupy Nova Scotia
Occupy Nova Scotia arrived at a space, the Grand Parade Square, with tents and BBQ’s for cooking. Materials on site were used to further construct home – tarpaulin sheets attached to flagpoles and trees. They made themselves a territory. Being at home in a space is the manufacture of a place that provides comfort (Wise, 2000); a process rather than a destination. To demonstrate that the public space is their home, the Halifax occupation included very young children and household pets. According to Goffman, physical spaces segregate social performances. The frontstage is a proscenium space and also associated with personal façade, including gender, race, age, gestures, voice, position titles, costume (e.g., white shirt, tie and jacket for corporate executives). The frontstage is the main theatre platform where the apparent performance is given and the script maintained. The back region is the place ‘where the impression fostered by the performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course’ (Goffman, 1959: 115). Dramaturgy claims that one’s authentic self is usually found in the backstage of social life. However, organizing strategies of Occupy Nova Scotia create havoc with the Goffmanian model of staging. What might be conceived as the movement’s backstage, for example, planning meetings, working committees, drumming circles and decision making – is actually on the front stage for all to see (and participate therein). Occupy Nova Scotia uses territory as a key piece of its resistance but sometimes the dramatis personae include outsiders delivering walk-on performances which disturb territorial claims. In an attempt to dislodge the Occupiers from the Grand Parade, Mayor Peter Kelly arranged to meet the protest leaders and members of the Canadian Legion in a tent on the occupied territory.
Exhibit 3: Meeting in a tent. Photo courtesy of Andrew Vaughan
Legion official Jean Marie Deveaux emerges from a tent after meeting with Occupy Nova Scotia protesters who agreed to temporarily move from the Grand Parade to make way for November 11 ceremonies.
Advance notice of the meeting was leaked to the media. As television reporters set up to film the tent meeting, Kelly physically manoeuvred the protest representative to his side, turning him around to face the camera for the photo opportunity. This accomplished an on-television demonstration of his communion with the protesters – a man of the people – no doubt attempting to cultivate political support (it being an election year) from an increasingly influential interest group. This directing activity would usually be stage-managed behind the scenes, but while the television crew prepared to film its report, a nearby Occupier made his own iPhone video, bringing the manipulation to the front region with an internet posting. The players for this mini-drama consisted of a small number of Occupy protesters, the Mayor (his costume included a prominent Remembrance Day poppy on his jacket as an effective signal as to what role he was playing) and a few war veterans in full military uniform. The meeting was performed as a claim to rights of freedom – the Occupiers’ right to territorialize the Grand Parade versus the members of the Canadian Legion who claim to have fought wars to win that freedom for them.
Goffman (1959) suggests that performances can be organized to prevent audiences from observing backstage interactions that could undermine the image being promoted in the front region. This is an interactive process in which organizers and disorganizers adjust to each other. If the dramaturgy of the tent meeting is considered, it was supposed to be backstage, but the front region burst-in on the proceedings when the television cameras arrived and the protesters revealed their own script and auxiliary videographer. YouTube video footage shows the Mayor of Halifax squatting on a milk crate discussing matters with the Occupiers. No victory was able to be declared by the Mayor since the Occupier was not immediately prepared to agree to vacate the Grand Parade for Remembrance Day – a spoiled mayoral performance or part of the territory in-between formal and informal organizing? A lesson learned from this struggle for space is that the contest is as much about staging as it is about the space itself. Goffman (1971) lays out eight kinds of space which he calls ‘territories of the self’. This includes personal space which is the territory surrounding an individual that is private, the bubble space. Spaces may also include delimited ‘stalls’ (Goffman, 1971: 32), e.g., the Grand Parade which has geographic boundaries that tourists can point-to on walking tour maps. Goffman notes that a stall can be left temporarily without vacating one’s claim on the space.
If the Grand Parade is considered to be a stall, then there are competing claims to that space on Remembrance Day. Occupy Nova Scotia maintained its claim – the park benches and grass lawns; the new home of Occupy Nova Scotia – but the war veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion had other plans. Occupy Nova Scotia was now negotiating with someone with a fixed idea of how the space should look and feel. (At this point it should be acknowledged that claiming ‘Occupy Nova Scotia negotiated’ is somewhat problematic. This brings up the difficult question of who exactly is inside or outside an organisation without formal membership. This paper looks to the concept of territory to help constitute organizational involvement through encampment activities). The symbolic staging of the Legion included their comrades, the ghosts of those killed in war, who were coming to visit on November 11 (but just the Halifax ghosts, assuming they are tame enough to visit only their designated memorial site). The protest occupiers wished to preserve their territorial claim and initially did not feel obliged to surrender their use of the Grand Parade. They planted tents and homemaking possessions on the empty place, thereby marking the territory for continued cooperative occupation. But the Grand Parade was also staked-out by the identification pegs of city land surveyors. The municipal bureaucracy attempted to restrict use of the Grand Parade by means of ordinances drafted by lawyers and declared by elected officials. Therefore, temporary tenancy of the public area was at play, making it uncertain as to when the claim of Occupy Nova Scotia began and when it terminates. The performance of cooperative occupation demonstrates the potential for governance threats to organizational identity and a layered concept of space.
Weber and the ‘shell game’
From the discussion above, it is clear that many fragments contribute to the marking of territory. The claimants bring elements of home to the geographic area of occupation – ‘chez moi’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1984: 9). Notions of territory and home have a capability to situate organizational context. For example, the mobility of home is explained by Wise (2000: 296), ‘Like a hermit crab, I carry my home on my back, my stuff scattered about, bags packed in the trunk. I carry a space.’ It should be made clear that this concept of home implies that home is not only attached instrumentally; it is part of who we are: it is a performance of identity. Similarly, Weber (1947) describes bureaucracy as a ‘shell as hard as steel’ (Baehr, 2001); a metaphor designed to describe the debilitating impact of bureaucratic life on the self. There is an irony here. In stark contrast to the anti-rational thinking and organizing associated with the Occupy movement (often more expressive than instrumental, according to Smucker, 2013), Weber has, largely, been characterized as ‘the father of bureaucracy’ (Cummings and Bridgman, 2011). Yet recent critical scholarship has tried to rescue Weber as a ‘scholar of domination’ (Clegg and Lounsbury, 2009), arguing that Weber viewed bureaucracy not as an idyllic form and not as a recipe for social transformation but a warning about the impact on bureaucracy of social and organizational life. Even here it has been argued that Weber’s profound angst about bureaucracy as an ‘iron cage’ that imprisons people’s sense of self, was a mistranslation (Baehr, 2001). The image ‘steel shell’ which refers to a ‘profoundly changed self that has metamorphosed into a different way of being’ (Mills et al., 2014: 234) speaks to potential links between organizational forms and dominant ways of thinking and being that are important aspects of the Occupy movement.
The social movement approach to organizing recognizes a variety of interpretations that are quite different from that of the ideal-type bureaucracy. In its most developed form, bureaucracy exhibits the following characteristics (Clegg and Dunkerley, 1980):
- Each office has a clearly defined sphere of official duties.
- Officials (engaged in professional careers) are organized in a clearly defined hierarchy.
- Administration is based upon written documentation of a set of regulations.
- People are defined in an impersonal manner, first and foremost in terms of their jobs.
- Candidates are appointed on the basis of technical qualifications or examination.
Occupy Nova Scotia pushes-back against such presumptions with organizational performances that are given to alter existing power arrangements (Benford and Hunt, 1992). With the inclusion of veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion as members of the cast, and co-claimant of the Grand Parade territory (to stage a war remembrance ceremony on November 11), the Occupy theatre included the living and the dead. The Legion brought an abundance of ritual to achieve control, claiming high ground with a show of military medals, poppies, memorial wreathes, shoulder-flash embroidery, and music (the Last Post bugle call signifying that many soldiers have gone to a final rest). The Legion demanded respect for The Fallen, drawing attention to the power of symbolism and of actors’ experienced lives with themes of death and home. The municipal bureaucracy upped the ante by attempting to sanctify the territory of the Grand Parade as the pending site of Kristallnacht vigil lights (a remembrance of the 1938 tragedy when Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed) in addition to the November 11th Remembrance Day events. At the far end of the Grand Parade is the meeting room of the Mayor and City Councillors. Inside the building, the Council has designated a territory as totally private. They create a name for this – in camera session. Here the Council plotted police action to disengage the protest in time for Remembrance Day. The Mayor seems to have purposefully selected the Legion members (unknown to them) to engage in war with the enemy Other (Occupy Nova Scotia) to remove it from the territory of the Grand Parade. The main weapon was symbolism.
Performance and audience
Performance may be thought of as a political activity. It includes all acting which serves to interact with and influence other players. For example, social movement performances involve efforts of protesters toward convincing others (and themselves) that hegemonic capitalist narratives need to be reframed (Smucker, 2013). Originally, Goffman used the language of theatre to demonstrate how people present themselves, sometimes as a masked persona, in social transactions. They put on a show for others. This paper implies an essential question for social activists: Who are these others? In this section, we describe multiple audiences for the performances of Occupy Nova Scotia.
Careful selection of performers is an important step in developing effective organizational theatricality. But for Occupy Nova Scotia this involves a drawing-in process rather than ‘selection’. In the case of Occupy Nova Scotia, the organizational performance requires discourse related to occupation of territory and the cast of characters should ideally have occupation of space as a common conviction. The cast has to be prepared to risk confrontation as they project their milieu since the search for home is heavily imbued with performances that may possibly lead to incarceration. With a view to managing impressions (Goffman, 1959) social movement members engage in casting activities by scripting roles for themselves and others who wish to contribute to the programme. In considering roles for performers, it has to be recognized that the Occupy cast may not be prepared to simply read assigned lines. Social movement actors devote their lives to script-busting and have a general abhorrence of rules and regulations. Occupy Nova Scotia attempted to avoid role disputes by making use of established committees, thus allowing Occupiers to select their own role. Occupy Nova Scotia has a very flat organizational structure and this has the potential to appeal to the cast. (Sometimes it is claimed that Occupy has no structures. But as Jaffe (2013), points-out, horizontalism is indeed a structure, just not a hierarchical one.) The entity takes its lead from various teams, for example, committees working on logistics, finance, arts and direct action. These teams may constitute the idea of rebelliousness differently. The Occupy Nova Scotia arts and culture team (comprised of museum workers, librarians, dramatists, artists, jugglers and painters) might be expected to place great importance on the symbolic nature of protest, and see this as achievement which promotes their interests. However, members of the direct action committee are not likely to see it that way. Part of the expectation is a willingness to be more expressive with their emotions such as demonstrating outrage, providing victims, and creating the ‘possibility of critical consciousness and praxis transforming formal spectacle through… active carnivalesque resistance’ (Boje et al., 2004: 767). Social movements are adept at improvising scripts to create impressive and disturbing dramas. Organizational dramaturgy is thus considered necessary for the maintenance of the social movement.
Occupy Nova Scotia was billed as an organization where no one speaks for the whole. Generally, members are thought to have a distrust of leadership, so they try to demonstrate a plurality of voices. The Occupy literature is mixed on the issue of leadership. The leaderless structure is often mentioned, however it is also claimed that everyone in the movement is a leader. Our observations in Halifax concur with Jaffe (2013) who noted that the New York discourse of leaderless concealed obvious and consistent stage-managing by a small core troupe. Occupy had no paid employees in Halifax. However, some members had more skill or charisma than others and it seems as if they naturally slid into leadership, perhaps without meaning to. This was a precarious move since Occupiers have a propensity to refuse expertise. The closest thing to organizational continuity was the lawyer assigned to Occupy Nova Scotia by a non-profit legal aid society. His presence was often required due to constant contests with police and other authorities.
Social movements are producers of virtual reality and they embrace simulacra and the hyper-consumption of images (Baudrillard, 1983). The members of Occupy Nova Scotia searched for home comfort by producing imagery within their performance as protesters. Easily transportable musical instruments were standard equipment: guitars, harmonica, voice, violins, and ukulele. The Grand Parade already had a proliferation of signs before the arrival of Occupy Nova Scotia. Citizens walking through the area are solicited to buy hamburgers, vote in the upcoming election, refrain from skateboarding, read names on the war memorial of ‘those who have fallen’ and, according to by-law A301, pick-up after their dogs. The Occupy movement’s artists added to the Grand Parade signage with street painting and banner-making to signify that a territory was now occupied. The signage indicated a disparate programme delivered with many loose ends. Chalk drawings on pavement near Halifax City Hall called out to those entering the building: ‘take the power back, voice of women, capitalism fracks the planet, spread the love’. The messy relationships among these various goals may actually have contributed to the Occupy movement’s vogue sensation and swift growth (Milkman et al., 2013). With a variety of art forms such as masks on faces, paint on cardboard, embroidery on flags, participants created a ‘festival of associative images’ (Hajer, 2005: 638). Just like municipal deliberations in nearby City Hall, it is by no means obvious how the various symbolisms informed the actual organizing of protest. An outpouring of contempt for capitalism may have been a central theme for the demands of Occupy Nova Scotia. To transport its anti-capitalism messages, Occupy Nova Scotia attempted to draw-in an audience while concurrently extending its bubble outwards. Our observations at the Grand Parade reveal that social movement actors use the connection of their bodies (and ideas) with space to achieve communication. For example, the frequent recital of impromptu dance by Occupy members helped produce spectacle that attracted attention from riders on the nearby Barrington Street bus and passers-by on foot. However, social movement theory, either the Political Process School or the New Social Movement School (Barry et al., 2012) – would advocate such a disparate programme for Occupy. The New Social Movement School looks to the backstage of organizing to understand tacit social linkages of those who oppose the status quo. Thus, individual movement actors are not concerned to carry membership cards but they do perform collectively as well as on their own account. They share values that oppose the status quo and power-laden systems to render inequities visible and thus negotiable.
Impressions are performed to engage an audience. The notion of audience distances Goffman’s on-stage dramaturgy from Mead’s (1934) internally-aimed theatre of the mind. Goffman explored face-to-face situations where actors contend for the attention and ultimately for the support of an audience. This may involve mystification and the maintenance of rituals that activists may stage-manage to foster some consistency with the script (Benford and Hunt, 1992). However, we should recognize that the word ‘script’ has to be used loosely in the Occupy context. The movement does not privilege elites, so facilitators of GA’s ensure that those perceived to be disadvantaged speak first. Occupy Nova Scotia scripts include prior agreement as to hand signals that are acceptable. This creates a sort of Robert’s Rules of Order (used extensively at Halifax City Hall), only the parliamentary procedure of the Occupiers is acted-out in pantomime. We observed index fingers pointing upward to indicate a point of information – e.g., tomorrow’s food bank location is at the library on Spring Garden Road; thumbs and index fingers forming a triangle to indicate a point of process – e.g., the facilitator is too pushy. An Occupier at the Grand Parade told us that anyone can block (veto) with arms extended in a cross pattern. After repeated blocks by an individual, the blocker may be subject to a motion of expulsion. As a last resort, Occupy Nova Scotia will assume that consensus exists with as little as 70% sparkling fingers. All this gives rise to significant and frequent questions about organizational process. Occupy Nova Scotia seems to be navigating tensions between mainstream forms of organizing and more emergent forms. Sometimes the process works, other times it causes problems. This was the case for the important decision made by Occupy Nova Scotia members to absent themselves from the Grand Parade on Remembrance Day. They created a home-away-from-home at an uptown Halifax park (from which they were later forcibly evicted).
Organizational theatre audiences are often passive but members of Occupy Nova Scotia try to draw them in – as buskers do – to ask for money and to gain support for occupation of territory. Staging for this includes the major activity of publicity. The Occupiers’ territory at the Grand Parade is situated so as to give proximity to prospective audiences that assemble for hockey games at the nearby arena, business meetings across the street at the World Trade Centre, constant comings and goings from Halifax City Hall, and a steady stream of pedestrian and automobile traffic on Barrington Street. Social movement dramas require determined efforts to attract audiences even though large portions of the audience seem intent on ignoring or subverting the performance. The Grand Parade occupiers tried to invite other people into their new home, but we observed that most of those immediately present seemed to pretend the occupiers were not there, or may have viewed them as having only the entertainment value of a side show. We believe this had much to do with more or less constant stigmatization of the encampment by politicians and the local news media. This paper deals with this issue in the next section by applying Goffman’s (1963b) concept of stigma.
Stigma: A threat to organizational identity
One distraction that social movement players face is stigmatization. Sigma crosses the boundaries of organizational space, referring to attributes that people perceive as marking the holder as being different and inferior. Society is subject to dramatic processes whereby identities are spoiled and those who are deemed to be different are ‘reduced in our minds to less than whole’ (Goffman, 1963b: 12). In the context of Occupy Nova Scotia, stigma is relevant from more than one perspective. First, there is the Goffmanian concept which involves the labeling of the members as unfit to occupy space in the Grand Parade on Remembrance Day. This manifest in daily struggles as the occupiers dealt with maintaining its identity at the encampment. Stigma tension arose with members stressed by mental health issues and substance abuse. Second, and we believe more important for gleaning lessons from the movement, is the idea that Occupy may have actually produced stigma in its performance by omitting voices that ought to have been heard. This second type of stigma arose as the Occupy Nova Scotia movement wrestled publicly with the decision about whether or not to leave the Grand Parade Square. Using language burdened with nationalism and military patriotism, the occupiers declared they had reached a territory settlement with the war veterans and municipal officials (Khasnabish, 2013). The occupiers had been increasingly drawn into a precarious dance (Martin, 2012) with politicians and the Legion war veterans about the ethics of their occupation given the ‘memorial meshwork’ (Allen and Brown, 2016: 25) of the Grand Parade with its war cenotaph, Remembrance Day, and Halifax as an historic military town. The core of the encampment consisted mostly of young, white protesters. An actant that was absent from the Halifax occupation was an aboriginal memory of pre-white settlement of the Halifax area by the Mi'kmaq First Nations communities. Also missing were stories of how colonial British dominance, and later Canadian governance, was brutal: ‘the Mi'kmaq were subjected to conscious attempts to alter their lifestyle... and badly conceived government programs and encroachments upon reserved [aboriginal] lands. Economic patterns that privileged employment as labourers effected irreversible change and left them [the Mi’kmaq] socially isolated’. Mi’kmaq literally means the people. However, the tragic territorial claims of these people were not featured as part of the Halifax occupation. As discussed by Pickerill and Krinsky (2012: 281) Canada’s indigenous people were already dispossessed of territory and now there seemed to be ‘the impression to some that they were being reoccupied by yet more unwelcome intruders’. Pickerill & Krinsky also question the wider Occupy movement’s focus on critique according to wealth, perhaps excluding other inequities such as race, gender, class, colonial dispossession, and the fact that homeless people were, before the occupation, often present in the Grand Parade. Such exclusions at the Occupy Nova Scotia site should be seen as problematic and ironically elitist.
Attention to territory helps surface how social movements and governmental organizations perform anti-stigmatization moves. The Halifax mayor appealed to the demands of invisible dramatis personae, i.e., the public (it was not made known how the Mayor came to know these demands or how he gauged their precedency). Apparently, this nebulous entity - described by Pell (2014) as the abstract whole of a society – requested that the occupied space be given back. However, occupation is the part of the mission of the Occupy movement. In its search for home, Occupy Nova Scotia pitched its tents as confrontation to the makers of municipal by-laws. But there is a limit to the intensity of discreditable acts that the movement can accept for its own. It had to make decisions about disassociating the organization from embarrassing acts such as Occupiers urinating on the public sidewalk. In addition to the dangers presented by ill-meaning individuals, extra-movement actors come with dramatistic baggage when they take advantage of a movement’s audience to give preference to their own interests. For example, the encampment of Occupy Nova Scotia adopted street youth who had been unsuccessful in attempts to kick their addictions, and some of these youth seemed more attracted to the provision of money and food than to interests of the movement. This was discussed at a GA in the Grand Parade. Dramaturgical circumspection requires that facilitators of Occupy Nova Scotia stage-manage such free riding so as to not detract from the performance of protest.
Being constituted as a whole is useful when it is noted that the ‘group’ includes broader membership than homeless young people. The Occupy movement also included mainstream supporters such as church ministers, teachers and retired politicians. This increased the encampment’s inventory of respect symbols. To enhance aspects of dramaturgical loyalty, Occupy Nova Scotia held a GA once or twice a day to discuss proposals from working groups and to consensually make decisions. However, the administrative overhead involved with GA’s is not interesting to activists. Attendance at these meetings diminished as the occupation of the Grand Parade rolled into its second month and the Occupiers were pressed to make the GA’s more fun. A number of ideas were floated (Occupy Nova Scotia, 2011): decorate banners, stay in touch with other groups and report on positive occurrences, inspiring talks, food, chants to warm the atmosphere, bring instruments and jam before the event. It was generally agreed that minor administrative issues that get discussed repeatedly can turn people off. The propensity for repetition was very high since it is difficult to manage what amounts to a debating exercise in which everyone has their say, often through chanting human microphones.
What we learn about social movement organizing from the notion of stigma, is that actors may be forced to conduct face work once they have been given a discreditable label (Goffman, 1955). However, the Grand Parade occupiers did not seem to be intimidated by public shaming (on social media) that was a constant barrage during the period of occupation. We offer that the occupiers were more likely to be concerned about performances of the self. Theatre of the mind is perhaps the true ‘backstage’ of the Occupy movement – where activists are the audience of their own performance. Although Goffman did not theorize the backstage to any great degree, he claimed that he always had enough realistic perspective to see the curtains (to understand that what is performed is an act). But, traditional dramaturgy is based on Mead (1934) who stressed an interaction between a duality that he called the ‘I’ and the ‘me’. The I is more in the form of impromptu performance. This includes natural expression arising from biologic drives, for example securing food, flight from danger, and engaging in activist activities. The biologic I would seem to have the capacity to wreak havoc on the social world. This is where the me comes in. As a social control device, the me helps the I experience the social and anticipate the experiences of other actors. Therefore, one can be the audience of one’s own performance, and the self is a product of the performance in a necessarily social milieu rather than existing prima facie. If the self is performed in the theatre of the mind, then face-to-face interactions (which Goffman mostly focused on) become less important and Goffman’s notion of the backstage is not a particularly robust conception of the self. In the case of Occupy Nova Scotia, this is especially important since self-making is a dynamic process and there may be more than one self. ‘People’s identities do not precede their performances but are constituted in and through them’ (Mol, 2002: 37). The theory of the self, discussed in this section, is relevant for what turned-out to be Occupy Nova Scotia’s prime occupational move – it’s decision to vacate the Grand Parade Square in favour of the war veterans. We now turn to a more detailed description of that move, then conclude the paper with a summary of what we have to learn from Occupy Nova Scotia.
Sometimes the Occupy acting cast included outsiders. This was exposed when Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly attempted to enroll members of Occupy Nova Scotia into his network. As indicated earlier in this paper, Kelly arranged for a meeting with protesters in a tent on municipal territory that had been physically occupied. The tent was near the cenotaph remembering Canadian soldiers killed in war. The cenotaph stands at the centre of the Grand Parade and was the physical expression of the most potent political challenge for Occupy Nova Scotia. The relocation of the Occupy encampment coincided with the occupiers’ agreement (decided in a GA) to take part in Remembrance Day memorial services at the Grand Parade. Not expected, however, were the events following the Remembrance Day ceremony. The Halifax Regional Police acted on a decision of the elected officials (taken in camera) to use force to evict the relocated Occupy encampment. We agree with Khasnabish (2013) that we can learn something from the Remembrance Day eviction. These learnings relate to the theatricality of both material and symbolic territory. The occupational rendering of the self was understood through sensemaking of the territory in which the occupation occurred. Important in the case of the Grand Parade, sensemaking included its historical meanings. The symbolic weight of Grand Parade and Remembrance Day cut both ways, according to Khasnabish:
On the one hand, Occupy NS was drawn, problematically to my mind and in some ways to their distinct disadvantage, into a rhetorical and gestural affirmation of the patriotic, nationalistic, and militaristic legacy embodied by Remembrance Day and the purposes it serves in the context of contemporary Canadian military adventurism. This not only diluted any radical critique of the status quo emanating from the camp, it also led ultimately to its violent eviction. On the other hand, given the widespread nationalist mythology that Canadian troops have always only fought and died for democracy, peace, and justice, when the mayor decided to use force to evict the occupiers on Remembrance Day in the midst of a rainstorm, public opinion turned significantly against the mayor and city council. (Khasnabish, 2013)
The police take-down event had specific consequences. Discourse in the public news media became much more sympathetic toward the cause(s) of Occupy Nova Scotia. Also, the violent actions of the police changed the attitude of many activists within Occupy Nova Scotia who had previously included municipal police as a part of the 99% (Amirault, 2014). Ultimately, the Nova Scotia occupation promoted further distrust and deep public criticism of Mayor Kelly who announced that he would not be a candidate in the upcoming Halifax election. Occupy Nova Scotia was successful in producing ongoing public discussion about the right to the city. However, things change slowly. Even though the quantity of Occupy-inspired debate increased dramatically, discourse remained in terms couched by the municipal bureaucracy – for example, the legality of urban camping, rules for in camera meetings of the elected officials, and new by-laws for public disturbances. An ironic outcome was a subsequent formal motion at Halifax City Council to invite Occupy Nova Scotia to ‘take up shelter and assemble around the statue of Joseph Howe, Nova Scotia’s own champion for our freedom of speech’. This overlooked the fact that Joseph Howe (1804-1873) held mantles of power opposed by Occupy Nova Scotia; he was the Premier and Lieutenant-Governor of the Province. We doubt that Occupy Nova Scotia would wish to assemble at his statuesque feet.
The Grand Parade Square, where Occupy Nova Scotia struggled against capitalist greed, set the stage for the engagement with a participating audience. We suggest that the occupation in Halifax became a cooperative occupation with the war veterans of the Canadian Legion. Hence, the occupation was itself occupied by a theatrical rendering of war remembrance, protest, politics, and a dramaturgical performance of right to territory. Performances do not just display what has already been constructed, but also help to do the constructing.
Conclusion: Implications for cooperative occupation
This study of the Occupy Nova Scotia encampment was concerned to show that the use of organizational dramaturgy helps to create personal and organizational space, recognizing that the term space implies movement and displacement. ‘At the centre of the home, the territory, is not a singular rational subject, picking and choosing milieu, arranging one’s space like flowers in a vase’ (Wise, 2000: 301). The movement feeds on public and dramatic performances of occupation. Therefore, this paper theorized occupation in terms of organizational being, and provided a theatre-based understanding as to how societal actors produce meaning in context of the territories they claim. This paper introduced a small encampment that has mostly been ignored in the academic literature and this exemplar showed what is at stake when ‘cooperative occupation’ is in play. This occurred in Halifax when territorial traditions of war veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion competed with the home site of Occupy Nova Scotia.
This paper focussed on a case study of Occupy Nova Scotia to elucidate a dramatic organizational contest, showing that space intersects with dramaturgical concepts of performing regions, performance/audience, and stigma. Dramaturgy helps to provide a deeper understanding of how societal actors produce meaning in the context of the territories that they claim. The maintenance of a thing such as ‘the organization’ or ‘the movement’ relies in part on the performance of territory. As such, performance is important for understanding the achievement of organizing.
Dramaturgy makes methodological demands on researchers, fostering a display of reflexivity. In keeping with critical dramaturgy, the authors of this paper acknowledge that many alternative renderings could have been written into this paper. We chose from a wealth of ‘evidence’ collected, including observations on site which by their nature are partial representations of reality. We confess that alternative storylines were available in our describing of Occupy Nova Scotia, but offer that selecting from collected data is not unlike occupation. The authors chose what will be represented as truth and much of the story remains untold.
The Occupy Nova Scotia movement’s struggle for control of the Grand Parade enabled discussion of the concept of space and its juxtaposition to organizational components of the politics of war symbolism and public administration. We propose that it is in the liminal space that dramatic action occurs, i.e., where activists interact with bureaucrat and with other actors and where they attempt to enrol one another with their scripts and props. Dramaturgy’s explicit recognition that an audience is present makes us realize that organizations have to make decisions while others are watching over what may be considered their home territory. Social movements challenge bureaucracy by inviting others to critically examine disputed physical and symbolic space. Over time a number of social movements have been analysed in terms of losing their way because their mode of acting was out of line with their performance which often reinforced the things they were opposed to. The classic study here is Michels (1949) who examined how socialist parties had the tendency to become bureaucratic and, in the process, lose their focus on social change and substitute it with maintenance of the party bureaucracy. Arguably, Occupy Nova Scotia may have lost its way by giving in to the prescription demanded by its cooperative occupier, the Canadian Legion, and the bureaucratic solutions of the Halifax municipality. By the date of the Solidarity Rally of Solidarity May 19, 2012, displayed interest in Occupy Nova Scotia was minimal, as shown in the following picture. Occupy Nova Scotia, the loose and morphing organizational entity, continues to reinvent its home territory.
Exhibit 4: Symbolic encampment. Photo taken by L. Corrigan
Core members of Occupy Nova Scotia pitch a miniature tent to remember the encampment in the Grand Parade Square. Unfortunately, members of the news media outnumbered the reprise of the Occupiers.
The movement seems to be trying to unlock its own Iron Cage by starting to work with more established entities such a non-governmental organizations and union groups. However, it may need to reflect on the more profound dangers of organizational life associated with the ‘hard steel shell’ (Weber, 2002) which speaks more to territory of the mind as an even greater challenge than imprisoned ideas.
Smucker (2013: 223) asks if Occupy is simply a name fixed to a flashpoint: he encourages us to treat Occupy as a larger expression: the movement should not be ‘about a certain kind of tactic or, worse, a certain kind of person – one that many people see as fitting into a stereotyped “other” category that they have difficulty relating to (e.g., protester, occupier, and hippie – rather than a popular response to a common crisis’. The arguments of Barry, Berg and Chandler (2012) promote a view that social movements are not something entirely separate from the established processes of organizing in society but have ways of engaging through direct and indirect political contests and forms of dissent. Occupy movements are not easily dismissed as fringe organizations but have ways of holding traditional modes of organizing (e.g., bureaucracy) and decision making (e.g., hierarchy) up to scrutiny. The dramaturgy of Occupy Nova Scotia provided a framework for thinking about social justice, responsible organizing, avoiding stigmatization, and understanding competing claims in cooperative occupation. Even though the encampment ended, the movement continues. ‘The occupations were like a crack in the sidewalk through which blades of grass could sprout’ (Jaffe, 2013: 199). Perhaps the Occupy movement will contribute to building a new world out of the different pieces of this one. Certainly, Occupy Nova Scotia succeeded in changing the hegemonic narrative of the local political establishment.
* The authors thank the editors and the anonymous reviewers for their extensive efforts to provide insights and helpful suggestions.
 The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest of the many war veteran organizations in Canada with over 340,000 members.
 In Canada, Remembrance Day is held on November 11 each year to commemorate the deaths of Canadians who died fighting in wars in which Canada was a combatant. The 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month was chosen as symbolic of the ending of World War I.
 Canada follows the British tradition of selling manufactured poppies for people to wear as a sign of respect for the war dead. The money raised goes to support charities associated with former members of the armed forces and their families. It is a hugely symbolic gesture that is reinforced in public events by television broadcasters and politicians.