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Doing activism like a state: Progressive municipal government, Israel/Palestine and BDS

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Davina Cooper, Didi Herman

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-59
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jun 2019
Accepted/In press10 Apr 2019
E-pub ahead of print10 Jun 2019
Published1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Davina Cooper is a research professor in Law and Political Theory at King’s College London in the Dickson Poon School of Law. She is the author of several books, including Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke, 2014), and Feeling like a State: Desire, Denial, and the Recasting of Authority (Duke, 2019). In an earlier life she was a London councillor, and discusses the challenges of this experience and radical 80s municipal activism in her first book, Sexing the City (Rivers Oram, 1994). Didi Herman is a professor of Law and Social Change at University of Kent Law School. She has written extensively on Jewish-related topics, including her book, An Unfortunate Coincidence: Jews, Jewishness and English Law (OUP, 2011). Her other books tackle the Christian Right and lesbian and gay legal activism, including The Antigay Agenda: Orthodox Vision and the Christian Right (Chicago, 1997), and Rights of Passage: Struggles for Lesbian and Gay Legal Equality (University of Toronto, 1994).


King's Authors


Activism is typically placed in opposition to state practice. Yet, state bodies often participate in campaigns and movements for change, drawing on different powers and capacities, including the ability to withhold goods, land and contracts. This article explores subnational state activism – what it means and the activist framework it offers – through a study of UK local government’s episodic participation in the pro-Palestinian movement for divestment and boycott of Israel. Municipal participation in this movement demonstrates certain tensions and challenges for subnational state activism, in conditions of conflict, where critics denounce local government for over-reaching and acting improperly. This article focuses on two key aspects: the relationship of municipal activism to de-subordination and the troubling of state hierarchy; and the place of responsibility, care and democratic embeddedness within municipal state practice. Together, these strands contribute to wider debates about progressive statehood and paradigms of institutional activism.

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