Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Ruth M. Buchanan


A vast literature has considered the proactive use of law as a tool by progressive social movements, but far less attention has been paid to the way activists respond to involuntary engagement with law as a result of repression and criminalization. This dissertation explores the legal support infrastructure of grassroots protest movements in Canada and the US by tracing the evolution of contemporary activist legal support through two periods. The tactic of jail solidarity and an emerging legal collective model are highlighted as the key features of the global justice organizing era (1999-2005) while in the second age of austerity era (2008-2018), I discuss evolving approaches to law collective work in various protest movements and highlight a renewed focus on anti-repression as a framing praxis of both organizing and legal support. Grounded in my own activist legal support work over more than two decades, this research rests on data arising from detailed interviews and analysis of more than 125 archival documents. I develop two areas of inquiry. First, I trace critiques of movement lawyering in the legal literature to demonstrate that those critiques are often shared by legal support organizers. Divergent opinions on the appropriate role of lawyers and norms of professional ethics in law collective practice reflect long-standing contradictions in progressive lawyering practice. Accordingly, I argue that the legal work of non-lawyer activists ought to be understood as a complementary if also sometimes disruptive model of movement lawyering. Second, I demonstrate that an analysis of radical legal support speaks to the post-arrest experiences of protesters and the impact of such repression on mobilization phenomena largely absent from the literature on state repression of social movements. I consider this dynamic through the lens of legal mobilization, arguing that the pedagogical work of law collectives, understood as a site of social movement knowledge production, plays a significant role in mediating the complex relationship between repression and mobilization. I conclude by exploring the legal consciousness of activist legal support organizers and argue that the education and organizing praxes of law collectives are evidence of a form of prefigurative, counter-hegemonic legality.


Author owns copyright, except where explicitly noted. Please contact the author directly with licensing requests.

Included in

Law Commons