Performing protest: occupation, antagonism and radical democracy

Ruiz, Pollyanna (2017) Performing protest: occupation, antagonism and radical democracy. In: Fisher, Tony and Katsouraki, Eve (eds.) Performing antagonism: theatre, performance & radical democracy. Performance philosophy . Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 131-148. ISBN 9781349950997

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There is currently much talk about the centrality of 'the public' in the processes of democracy. Habermas refers positively to the ways in which newspapers, magazines, radio and television create a dispersed ‘public body’ capable of articulating public opinion (1974), however there is also a deep sense of ambivalence about the gathering of actual public bodies in city spaces This sense of distrust is rooted in the perceived unreasonableness of the mass and the belief that the politically productive enthusiasm of the crowd can easily metamorphose into the physically destructive hysteria of the mob (Calhoun: 1992, Mouffe: 2005). The way in which public space are perceived to be structured by complex and oscillating us/them distinctions that both construct and challenge the democratic project are particularly pertinent and timely in these turbulent times.

This chapter contribution will examine the way in which protesters perform their antagonisms through the physical occupation city spaces. It will begin by focusing on the way in which distinctions between those who are included and excluded from the processes of democracy have been enacted by protester’s formation of picket lines during trade disputes, permanent picket lines during the anti-apartheid campaign and temporary occupations of public spaces during more recent protests against the unfolding process of neo liberalism. In doing so it will examine multiple sites of antagonism and reflect upon the ways in which they are both geographically particular and symbolically unified responses to the growing sense of global crisis that have characterised the start of the twenty first century.

This chapter will then go on to compare and contrast protester’s response to neo liberal economic policies more specifically. Summit spaces, such as those called into being by the WTO and the IMF in the late 1990s, occupied a place beyond the criticism and control of the world’s citizenry. Encircled by a protective wall of concrete blocks and chain-link faces these barriers made the 'usually invisible wall of exclusion starkly visible' (Klein, Guardian, 23rd March 2001) and in doing so actualised the boundaries between the included and the excluded. Consequently, anti-globalisation demonstrations focused on breaching the barricades, which literally and metaphorically excluded 'the public' from the decision-making process. In contrast, Occupy Wall Street’s simultaneous occupation of multiple city space brought the marginalised majority into the global mainstream and made them visible. In this way protesters positioned the previously excluded 99% within the social spaces in which power is decided (Castells, 2007). Thus, Occupy protesters moved beyond demanding the right to access democracy in particular places and began a debate about the processes of democracy in a newly globalised world (Chomsky, 2012).

In this contribution I will argue that both these movements, like those that have gone before them, have used occupation (differently) to temporarily unfix the meanings usually ascribed to people and places. I will suggest that these radical spaces challenge the us/them boundaries that commonly frame the political and enable protesters to find both common ground between activists and to gain purchase within the wider population. Thus I will suggest that activists’ ability to perform their political antagonisms creates a politically productive oscillation of spatalities and scales that both unsettles the exclusionary dynamics of capitalism and offers utopic alternatives.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Protest, Public Sphere, City spaces, Antagonism, Demonstrations
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology > HM0621 Culture
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Pollyanna Ruiz
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2017 08:44
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2017 08:44

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