The (Im)Possibilities of Social Justice through Alternative Justice in the San Francisco Bay Area

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January 2019


For decades, the San Francisco Bay Area has been a focal point for social justice initiatives and social change in the United States. Activists for racial justice, peace, sexual liberation, and access to healthcare have pervaded the region, using the media as well as their bodies and voices to reshape politics and the landscape. This visible and widespread social critique and activism in the region has transformed conceptualizations of justice. Alternative justice models – informal frameworks for conflict resolution ideally envisioned as outside purview of formal law and the legal system – have become increasingly common mechanisms to combat the deleterious effects of state justice systems in the region. In this article, I use 14 months of ethnographic research and applied anthropological work in the Bay Area to analyze the role of the presence and absence of images and direct action efforts in social justice work. This piece uses insights and findings from this fieldwork to ask: what is the role of images in social justice endeavors? What role does the absence of images in social justice endeavors play for alternative justice organizations and practitioners?

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