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Witnessing riot: a political ecology of digital things

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Elaine Campbell



This is the final published version of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This paper revisits academic commentary on the English Riots, 2011, as an entry point for re-imagining the political agency of the digital camera, and advancing a new materialist reading of the politics and practices of witnessing. Via Bennett’s (2010) exposition of the “vital materialism” of “thing-power,” two key problematics are explored: firstly, what counts as political agency in sites of riot, protest and violent disorder; and secondly, who, and importantly, what can and does act politically?What sense can be made of practices of witnessing - of bearing witness to riot - when agentic capacity is granted to nonhuman actants; and what happens to the politics of witnessing when “vibrant matter” is invested with political capabilities? In responding to these questions, the paper takes critical stock of the (immediate) aftermath of the English Riots, where practices of witnessing are entangled with, and co-opted into police investigative work. It is in this context that the “thing-power” of digital camera technologies stages a series of ethico-political interventions, and signals an alternative political imaginary in which heterogeneous assemblages of human and nonhuman actants mobilise an ecology of political practices predicated on witnessing, surveillance, investigation, vigilance, and the visual archive.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Campbell E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology

Year: 2019

Volume: 11

Issue: 1

Pages: 18-37

Online publication date: 21/02/2019

Acceptance date: 15/02/2019

Date deposited: 16/02/2019

ISSN (print): 2166-8094

Publisher: Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology