Our spring sale is on! Use promo code SPRING24 at checkout to save 50% on any order!

Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics

Subjects: Political Science, Political Behavior and Public Opinion, Sociology
Paperback : 9780472055975, 330 pages, 25 figures, 2 tables, 6 x 9, April 2023
Hardcover : 9780472075973, 330 pages, 25 figures, 2 tables, 6 x 9, April 2023
Open Access : 9780472903313, 330 pages, 25 figures, 2 tables, 6 x 9, April 2023

The open access version of this book is made available thanks in part to the support of libraries participating in Knowledge Unlatched
See expanded detail +

So much depends upon a yellow umbrella (or a pink hat)

Table of contents

Tables and Figures
Introducing Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics
Peter Gardner and Benjamin Abrams
Chapter 1 Contentious Politics and Symbolic Objects
Peter Gardner and Benjamin Abrams
Chapter 2 A Strategic Toolbox of Symbolic Objects: Material Artifacts, Visuality and Strategic Action in European Street Protest Arenas
Bartosz Ślosarski
Chapter 3 The nation who mistook death for life: The materiality of martyrdom, Shia religiosity and contentious politics in Iran
Younes Saramifar
Chapter 4 Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Symbolic Politics of In/visibility in Lebanese Queer Activism
John Nagle
Chapter 5 The Feathered Headdress: Settler Semiotics, U.S. National Myth, and the Legacy of Colonized Artifacts
Sonja Dobroski
Chapter 6 The Symbolism of the Street in Portuguese Contention
Guya Accornero, Tiago Carvalho and Pedro Ramos Pinto
Chapter 7 Signature, Performance, Contention
Hunter Dukes
Chapter 8 Policing bodies: The role of bodywork and symbolic objects in police violence during the Toronto G20
Valerie Zawilski
Chapter 9 Bodies on fire: Self-immolation as spectacle in contentious politics
Dennis Zuev
Chapter 10 El Che: The (im)possibilities of a political symbol
Eric Selbin
Chapter 11 Mekap – A social history of the ‘terrorist shoe’ that fought ISIS
Dilar Dirik
Chapter 12 Biafran Objects and Contention in Nigeria
Scholastica Ngozi Atata & Ayokunle Olumuyiwa Omobowale
Chapter 13 The mask as political symbol: On the ritualization of political protest through mask wearing
Bjørn Thomassen & Lone Riisgaard
Advancing the Study of Objects in Contention
Benjamin Abrams and Peter Gardner


When we observe protest marches, striking workers on picket lines, and insurgent movements in the world today, a litany of objects routinely fill our field of vision. Some such objects are ubiquitous the world over, like flags, banners, and placards. Others are situationally unique: Who could have anticipated the historical importance of a flower placed in the barrel of a gun, a flaming torch, a sea of umbrellas, a motorist’s yellow vest, a feather headdress, an AK-47, or a knitted pink hat? This book explores the “stuff” at the heart of protests, revolutions, civil wars, and other contentious political events, with  particular focus on those objects that have or acquire symbolic importance. In the context of “contentious politics” (disruptive political episodes where people try to change societies without going through institutions), certain objects can divide and unite social groups, tell stories, make declarations, spark controversy, and even trigger violent upheavals.
This book draws together scholars from a variety of fields to discuss symbolic objects in contentious politics: their meanings, uses, functions, and social responses. In bringing these phenomena together, this book offers a serious, distinctive, and cohesive theoretical contribution that draws upon diverse scholarly work in order to form the building blocks for future inquiry in the field. The aim is not merely to “close the gap” in the literature, but to create space in the field for further and more fruitful inquiry.


Benjamin Abrams is Leverhulme Fellow in Politics and Sociology at University College London.
Peter Gardner is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York.

“This is exemplary humanistic social scientific work, of the sort that all of us should be striving for. Bravo.”

—Fiona Greenland, University of Virginia

- Fiona Greenland

“Political players use all sorts of ‘things’ in pursuing goals and spreading meanings, from totems of group identity such as flags to a protester’s body intentionally set on fire. Such objects are as necessary to action as the people who carry them, and they are often the most colorful, creative, and memorable part. This volume shows why these objects matter so much.”
—James M. Jasper, author of The Art of Moral Protest

- James M. Jasper

“In a world where American cities have stowed away Confederate statues, people in yellow vests shook a powerful French president, and Chinese protestors changed Covid policies by holding up blank sheets of paper, the creation, potency, and legacies of symbolic objects clearly matter enormously. The superb interdisciplinary scholars assembled in Benjamin Abrams and Peter Gardner’s Symbolic Objects in Contentious Politics shed invaluable light on these critical features of politics across the globe.”
—Rogers M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania

- Rogers M. Smith

"Benjamin Abrams and Peter Gardner have skillfully combined 15 contributions, examining a range of symbolic objects that feature in contentious politics, including social movements, civil wars and revolutions. . . It also gives us a broader understanding of how symbolism and narratives are negotiated across many different contexts that is novel and illuminating."

- International Affairs, Kathryn Starnes, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK