The Pedagogy of Pulling Down Statues




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


Architecture, Media, Politics, and Society



Peer reviewed



On 7th June 2020 protestors violently pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, erected in 1895 in the centre of Bristol, UK. A plinth that raised the sculpture above head height was mounted by protesters, who blindfolded the statue, lassoed ropes around its head and hauled it to the ground. The statue severed from its base upon impact and lay prostrated on the ground before the onrushing protesters. One protester placed his knee on its neck, mimicking the actions of Derek Chauvin as he killed George Floyd. Colston’s wealth, accumulated through the slave trade, has been central to urban development of Bristol. This spectacle of protest ruptured the status quo and forced normalised aspects of Britain’s colonial history back into question. Within days sister acts against monuments to slave owners, imperialists, and racists have subsequently appeared in cities across the world. These acts of iconoclasm are helping to recalibrate contemporary discourses around race. As this paper argues, these actions also serve a heuristic function which could be summarised as follows. 1) Threatening public sculptures forces a critical dialogue concerning national values and the ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre 1968) 2) Threatening public statues starts a critical dialogue about imperialism, colonialism, and the naturalised histories of cities built on primitive accumulation 3) Threatening public statues raises awareness of public monuments which would otherwise be forgotten elements of the ‘representational space’ (Lefebvre 1974) of the consumer city 4) Because of the above, direct action against public monuments is not only an act of iconoclastic opposition to the ‘consensus system’ (Rancière 1999: 95) of neoliberal democracy, but the advent of a radically expanded, anarcho-democratic conception of the public university.


This is a video essay delivered at the AMPS online conference Dec 2020. It can be watched on YouTube at


art, pedagogy, iconoclasm, public art, statues, Colston, Back Lives Matter


Hudson-Miles, R. (2020) ‘The Pedagogy of Pulling Down Statues’, Architecture, Media, Politics, and Society Conference ‘Teaching-Learning-Research Design And Environments’, Dec 2-4th, Manchester University / Manchester School of Architecture [online].


Research Institute

Institute of Art and Design