The rallies and events that included chants of ‘death of evidence’ are significant in the understanding of power relations between the public, knowledge and the state. The protests also signify the importance of criminalization of dissent. Understanding criminalization of dissent helps us understand the deeper social, political and economic issues in our society. Studying the process of criminalization, representation, action and the reaction of the state and the public in events such as these, illustrate the importance of widening our critical perspective towards the society that we live in and the government and authority we adhere to. There are a number of theoretical and conceptual paradigms evident in these events. Some of the key theoretical frameworks that are in play and need to be addressed in these events are power dynamics, class relations and representation of different groups, threats and suppression.
First of all, it is important to understand these events not as just isolated, single events, but as a movement. The movement illustrates the outcry of resistance to the power exercised by the state in controlling and blocking evidence and knowledge from the policy-making scene.
The chain of demonstrations that took place on Parliament Hill, condemning the governments agenda to cut the science budgets, ‘muzzling’ the researchers, and closure of key research labs in favor of economic prospects to the capitalistic mode of production for the Canadian state speaks loud about the power exercise and sovereignty of the state. According to Hall et al (1978) power is essential in a capitalistic society, in order to produce order and enable economic production. Hall et al (1978) illustrates the significance of power dynamics through the concept of hegemony. According to Hall et al (1978), there are two different methods of maintaining power, consent and coercion. In the events and protests of our discussion, the former is evident at large. Through ‘muzzling’ and controlling the evidence that comes out of the research labs, the government maintains its hegemonic power and creates policies that benefit only the few elite and powerful at the top, such as those at the top of business and corporate sector as well as politicians and heads of state. But it would be accurate to say that both consent and coercion are evident at the same time because the cuts to funding and muzzling are ‘suppressive’, which enables the maintenance of consent.
In the protests that occurred against the governments agenda and the issues that were brought up, there are two different class relations and representations evident. First, the broader concept of hegemony is at play which illustrates a class gap between the elite and their agenda, and the general public. Secondly, the media representation of the dissenters is also significant.
Karl Marx conceptualizes social control as a tool of class struggle and reproduction of the state’s ideology, which is used to protect elite power (Starr, Amory, Fernandez and Scholl 2011). The control of knowledge and evidence is a major example of a social control mechanism by the state, intended to protect elite power, which can include criminal justice system professionals, politicians and the overall government (Foucault 2009).
The media has been very significant in the representation of the dissenters and the state. Much of the media has presented these protesters as highly educated, peaceful, upper-class, students, professors and scientists (CBC 2013). These representations are significant because they create consensus that these protesters are not criminals, belong to a ‘responsible’ group of citizens and obey rules. If we think critically of this representation, it enforces a notion in the bigger context that members of the upper class are responsible citizens, they don’t act violent and are knowledge experts (Foucault 2009). On the other hand the absence of coercive force, and the absence of police visibility in the media around these events itself enforces the idea that because these protesters were from a highly educated and upper-class section of the society, they act responsibly and don’t need police control (De Lint and Hall 2002).
The form of policing and control that is evident is mostly information based to a very extreme extent. Policing and control is done through methods such as ‘muzzling’. Restricting the researchers from speaking to the general public about their findings is one of the methods used in controlling knowledge and possible dissent. Through such methods, academics are criminalized by stating that they have done something they were prohibited from doing and then comes in the coercive force of police to arrest and segregate the researchers and label them as criminals because they pose a threat.
The construction of threat is very important in understanding the criminalization of dissent. Because academics, scientists and researchers pose a threat to the legitimacy of democracy in policy-making, they pose a threat to the legitimacy of the state apparatus. This is similar to what Hall et al (1978) terms, crisis in hegemony. Therefore, mechanisms of criminalization are used such as restricting and prohibiting the researchers to talk to the public, and if they do so, they are deemed criminal.
Overall, the movements that condemn the Harper governments’ agenda, for removing science and evidence from the policy-making table, exemplify the importance of knowledge in the power dialectic. By controlling knowledge, the state maintains power and the status quo. But as Foucault (2009) suggests, where there is power, there is resistance. Through protests and demonstrations, the scientists and academics alike, have demanded science and evidence to be included in policy-making. The extent of their success, or their inevitable failure due to the power that the society has created for the state, is yet to be seen.
CBC News. (2013, September 16). CBC News. Stand Up for Science rallies target federal government – Technology & Science – CBC News. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/stand-up-for-science-rallies-target-federal-government-1.1855977
De Lint, Willem and Alan Hall. 2002. “Making the Pickets Responsible: Policing Labour at a Distance in Windsor, Ontario.” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 39(1):1-27.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358. [5 April 1978 lecture]
Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clark, John and Brian Roberts. 1978. “Crime, Law and the State”. Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan.
Starr, Amory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl. 2011. “What is Going On?” Pp. 1-18 in Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era. New York: New York University Press.