A Noneventful Social Movement: The Occupy Wall Street Movement’s Struggle Over Privately Owned Public Space

Hao Cao


Why did the Occupy Wall Street movement settle in Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public space? Why did the movement get evicted after a two-month occupation? To answer these questions, this study offers a new tentative framework, spatial opportunity structure, to understand spatial politics in social movements as the interaction of spatial structure and agency. Drawing on opportunity structure models, Sewell’s dual concept of spatial structure and agency, and his concept of event, I analyze how the Occupy activists took over and repurposed Zuccotti Park from a site of consumption and leisure to a space of political claim making. Yet, with unsympathetic public opinion, intensifying policing and surveillance, and unfavorable court rulings privileging property rights over speech rights, the temporary success did not stabilize into a durable transformation of spatial structure. My study not only explains the Occupy movement’s spatial politics but also offers a novel framework to understand the struggle over privatization of public space for future social movements and public speech and assembly in general.


Occupy Wall Street movement, privately owned public space (POPS), spatial opportunity structure, spatial agency, spatial structure, event

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