Permitting protest: Parsing the fine geography of dissent in America

Don Mitchell, Lynn A. Staeheli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


The ability to dissent and to protest is a cornerstone of western liberal democracies. But dissent always threatens to exceed its bounds and to become a threat. The issue facing liberal states, then, has not only been how to incorporate dissent, but also how to shape dissent. In this project, the politics of public space has assumed a central role, as material public spaces have become a primary venue for the shaping of dissent. This article examines the ways in which dissent is incorporated into the liberal democratic state through a case study of protest in Washington, DC. In that city, as in others throughout North America and Western Europe, protest permit systems have evolved as a bureaucratic means to actively shape, if not directly control, public dissent. And yet, even as permit systems are becoming fully regularized, debates over their legitimacy suggest that geographically based permit systems might be inadequate to the task of incorporating dissent. As we indicate, recent protest activity shows just how important geography is to regulating, incorporating and policing dissent, even as those protests expose just how blunt and how fragile a tool that geography is.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-813
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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