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Surveillance, Spatial Compression, and Scale: The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr

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Abstract:

Abstract: 

In 1976, the Church Committee, a Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, came to the conclusion that Martin Luther King Jr “was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ‘neutralize’ him as an effective civil rights leader”. This paper explores how the FBI surveilled Martin Luther King Jr between September 1957 and Dr King's death in 1968 and how such surveillance relates to both spatial compression and scale. First, using FBI internal memos, government documents, social movement archives, mass-media accounts, and other sources, I reconstruct this history of state surveillance, partitioning it into three sequential phases. Then, I shift from description to analysis, exploring how surveillance—operating through the social mechanism of intimidation—compressed both the physical and tactical space that Dr King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference could comfortably inhabit. This paper also theorizes the relationship between state surveillance and scale within the larger process of state suppression of dissent since scale both demarcates the boundaries where socio-political contestation occurs and also plays an important role in how these contests play out.

Keywords: Martin Luther King Jr; dissent; political geography; scale; suppression; surveillance

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2007.00549.x

Affiliations: Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR, USA;, Email: boykoff@pacificu.edu

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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