Skip to main content

On Direct Action

When: Wednesday, February 14, 2024, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Where: 1.33 First Floor Sofa Room, Dept W, Queen Mary University of London, 81 Mile End Road, London, E1 4UJ


This one day conference is a part of On Direct Action series of events marking the 130th anniversary of the Greenwich Outrage, to consider the ways that revolutionary pasts can inspire contemporary praxis

About the event series "On Direct Action"

‘Pray… / For Boudin, blown to pieces’, wrote TS Eliot about the anarchist killed in 1894 when a bomb he was carrying detonated accidentally in Greenwich Park. Martial Bourdin’s intentions that cold winter’s morning have always been unclear – was he really trying to blow up the Observatory, site of the Prime Meridian line, in the name of revolutionary anarchism? ‘It would be really telling if one could throw a bomb into pure mathematics’, joked Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent, his fictional account of the event – ‘an act of destructive ferocity so absurd as to be incomprehensible, inexplicable, almost unthinkable; in fact, mad’.

Incomprehensible, inexplicable, unthinkable, mad: these are the clichés often used to describe direct action in the media, where ideological gestures always also appear as oddly aesthetic forms of symbolism and spectacle. Now, from museums and galleries to sport and infrastructure, from performance art to strikes and sabotage, groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil have put direct action front and centre of contemporary political engagement.

Two days of creative performances, workshops, film screenings and talks will take the 130th anniversary of the ‘Greenwich Bomb Outrage’ as an opportunity to bring organisers, activists, scholars and artists together in order to consider the past, present and possible futures of direct action.

These events are generously funded by the Raphael Samuel History Centre, the British Association of Victorian Studies and QMUL's IHSS Early Career Workshop Funding Scheme.


9: 00 – 9:30 Tea/coffee and pastries

9:30 – 9:35 Welcome & opening remarks

9:35 – 9:50 Showcase: Phoebe Plummer, ‘Why are young people entering into civil resistance?’

9:50 – 11:15 Panel: Direct action = assemblages & associations

  • Anthony Cross (Greenwich Historical Society), ‘The Horrible Affair’
  • Constance Bantman (Surrey), ‘Greenwich and other forms of direct action’
  • Daniel Laqua (Northumbria), TBC
  • David Glover (University of Southampton), ‘Morte incidentale di un anarchico: Strategies and Tactics before and after Greenwich’

11:15 – 11:45 Tea/coffee

11:45–13:00 Panel: Direct action = praxis & passion

  • Giulia Carabelli (QMUL), ‘Environmental Direct Action: the practice and meanings of radical care on a collapsing planet’
  • Matthew Adams (Loughborough), ‘Anarchist Revolutionary Passions’
  • Zehra Miah (independent scholar), ‘Art, literature and visual culture as direct action: Turkey and Protest, 1960-99’

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch (provided)

14:00 – 14:15 Showcase: Frances Howe

14:20 – 15:35 Panel: Direct action = symbolism & spectacle

  • Martin Coward, ‘Bombing buildings: urbicide and the public city’
  • George Legg (KCL), ‘Melodrama, Compassion and the Politics of Illustration in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent
  • Robert Hampson (RHUL), ‘Anarchists and Aliens: Joseph Conrad and the Greenwich Outrage’

15:35 – 16:00 Tea/coffee

16:00 – 16:15 Showcase: Gail Chester

16:15 – 17:30 Panel: Direct action = media & mass culture

  • Alastair Owens (QMUL), ‘A Shrine to Our Lady of Finchley: Toilet Humour and Radical Politics in a Liverpool Vicarage in the 1980s’
  • M. Syd Rosen (Cambridge), ‘A.J. Weberman and the Fight to Free Bob Dylan from Himself’
  • Ben Stoll (RHUL), ‘The neoliberalisation of resistance: Isaac Julien and the 1980s Uprisings on screen’
  • Ansar Ahmed Ullah (QMUL), ‘Summer of protest: Bengali anti-racist mobilisation in 1978’

17:30 – 17:45 Showcase –> Reading Red Kitchen

17:45 – 18:00 ‘Against Time’ by Paula Serafini and Jérémy Rubenstein

18:00 – 19:00 Break & travel to central London

An advance booking is not required and walk-ins are very welcome at any stage.

For other events in this series, visit the Eventbrite page.

Back to top