“Fear promotes the status quo”:
Surveillance discourses and environmental activism in Canada

Lindsey M. Bertrand
Royal Roads University

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This paper explores the topics of state surveillance and democratic participation. It examines how targeted surveillance—backed by the implicit threat of state violence—shapes the behaviour and sense of identity of Canadian activists who express dissent to dominant economic, technological, or cultural modes. In particular, the project focuses on members of the environmental movement who have, in legally permissible ways, expressed opposition to critical infrastructure (CI) projects such as pipelines or dams.

In Canada, among other nations, the inclusion of CI protection in national security priorities has enabled the surveillance of such environmental activists, treating them as a potential threat. Knowledge of state-sanctioned surveillance has become widespread, reinforcing the need for even law-abiding CI opponents to locate themselves within the discourse of this exercise and reinforcement of state power and the categories it implies.

My research, then, seeks to determine what influence, if any, targeted state surveillance has on the identity performance of law-abiding environmental activists in Canada.

Through a critical discourse analysis of such activists’ interview responses, the project investigates how the surveillance context has influenced the way activists understand and discuss lawful expressions of dissent and their own role in society.

Keywords: Surveillance, state power, social movements, identity performance



  • Literature Review
    • Dominant Environmental Discourse in Canada 
    • Identity in the Environmental Movement
    • State Power, Security, and Social Control
    • Views of Surveillance
    • Responses to Surveillance 
    • Gaps in the Literature
  • Methodology
    • Theoretical Assumptions
    • Research Design
    • Sample, Data, and Data-Gathering Tools
    • Method of Data Analysis
    • Ethical Challenges
    • Limitations and Exclusions
  • Results
    • Discursive Construction of Environmentalism
    • Environmentalist Tactics: Toward System Change
    • Interests of the State: Removing the Maple-Coloured Glasses
    • Functions of Surveillance
    • Activism in the Surveillance Context
  • Implications
    • Environmental Activists and the State
    • Environmental Activists and their Movement
    • Surveillance Discourses
    • The Environmental Conflict As Discursive
    • The Social Order and the Social Wrong 
  • Conclusions
    • Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research
  • References
  • Appendices
    • Appendix A: Visual Conceptual Framework
    • Appendix B: Letter of Invitation to Potential Participants
    • Appendix C: Consent Forms
    • Appendix D: Text of Recruitment Questionnaire
    • Appendix E: Participant Selection Criteria



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