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Enacting solidarity, ritual and collective emotions in a Black Lives Matter protest: An affective practices and virtual reality analysis

Enacting solidarity, ritual and collective emotions in a Black Lives Matter protest: An affective practices and virtual reality analysis

Project Team

Gavin Brent Sullivan , International Psychoanalytic University Berlin Gavin Sullivan — Coventry University

Chris Day — Coventry University

Zsófia Hacsek — Coventry University

Duration of Project

Ongoing – we are still interested in talking to Black men and women of all ages who attended the Coventry BLM protests in 2020 and anyone interested in viewing and discussing via Zoom the project immersive video. If interested please contact Gavin at

Project Overview

Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd spread quickly in 2020 to include many cities and towns outside the United States. Beginning on May 28th, multiple protests took place in large cities in the UK as well as smaller towns and cities such as Coventry.

Against the background of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, several hundred people took part in a second protest in central Coventry on June 7th. In this case study of the largest protest and a subsequent smaller event a week later, we recorded 360 degree virtual reality (VR) recordings of both events and explored affective patterns and reports of emotional atmospheres in interviews with 20 participants (key informants and people attending for a wide variety of reasons) who also watched three 2 minute segments of VR films chosen for their heightened emotionality. In examining why and how the protests took place, an affective practices framework (Wetherell, 2012) in combination with insights from social ontology (Tuomela, 2013) was used along with a constructive critique of crowd theories which focus on feelings of collective empowerment and the enactment of emergent social identities (Reicher & Drury, 2009). 

Project Objectives

Our innovative reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2019) of the interviews, media accounts, Youtube posts and complete corpus of VR recordings identified: 1) the crucial emotional immediacy of the social justice themes of the Black Lives Matter movement to attendance at the largest protest (i.e., despite Covid-19 restrictions and concerns about the police), 2) the contribution of “taking the knee” and a subsequent walk onto the Coventry “Ring Road” motorway, respectively, in creating shared feelings of unity and commitment among these protestors and in enacting solidarity with delayed drivers, and 3) concerns about subsequent loss of momentum which were partly offset by accounts of the BLM movement’s enduring emotional capital.

Project Impact

Indepth investigation of these protests will provide insights into how and why it is important for people to enact complex shared emotions as part of a physical and psychological group. Our research will also shed light on the experiences and dilemmas of people attending group gatherings in the midst of a global pandemic which contravened UK government social distancing guidelines. The project explores motivations and emotions of the wide range of community members engaged in collective action and explores some of the different experiences and actions of Black people and those allied to the Black Lives Matter protests; this includes exploration of concepts such as “momentum” that are used to understand protest groups and whether they achieve any identified aims. The research will also create a immersive video and make this publicly available as a novel social history of the BLM protests in Coventry.

Project Outputs

One journal manuscript is currently in preparation for submission to a leading social psychology journal.

A narrated 360 degree project video will be produced and made available on YouTube.

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023