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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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Sebastian Haunss, Paolo Gerbaudo – “Capitalist transformations and protest”

Time and Place: Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore – Palazzo Strozzi, Florence – Room Simone del Pollaiolo, 4 pm

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Sebastian Haunss, Bremen University

Based on an analysis of legitimation discourses Sebastian Haunss will discuss why the capitalist order survived the Great Recession in many countries largely unscathed, despite the severity of the crisis and the impact it had on individual citizens.

Paolo Gerbaudo, King’s College London

The social movements that have emerged in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, starting with the movement of the squares of 2011-2016 (Occupy, Indignados etc.) display a radical repositioning in the system of values and ideas, when compared with the movements of the 1990s and 2000s. The severe economic shock and widespread hardship caused by the “subprime” financial crash and the ensuing recession seems to have brought back questions of economic inequality at the very heart of social movement concerns, thus pushing demands for civil rights and the protection of individuals and minorities vis-à-vis the nation-state – those that had occupied the scene in previous decades – down the social movement agenda. “Identity politics” or “identitarianism”, as it is sometimes criticised, what was deemed to be the dominant logic of post-68 movements thus seems to be leaving way to mobilisations that are overtly anti-identitarian, in that they reject sectional identities (as those based on gender, sexuality, and race) and appeal to extremely vague and inclusive “non-identities” or “empty signifiers”. Witness for example, the flourishing of references to the notions of the people and the citizenry popping up everywhere in the discourse of social movements and allied post-crash parties (Podemos, Momentum etc.). Thereby, the pursuit of economic inequality thus goes hand in hand with an universalist re-assertion of social and political equality transcending and superseding all those sectional divisions that appear to have fragmented society in the neoliberal era, often acting as an obstacle to solidarity and therefore a resource in the hands of the ruling elites. Furthermore, this opposition against economic inequality is mobilised in a rather different manner than it has been customary in social movements in previous decads. It is not raised simply on the level of economic conflict, as it would be in the context of a traditional syndicalist perspective. Nor is it raised in an ethical manner as it would be the case in “corporate responsibility” consumerist campaigns. Rather this question is mobilised in the framework of a political conflict, where it is understood that economic inequality has its roots in a disparity of political power, where oligarchies have accrued enormous influence at the expense of ordinary citizens. In this lens, social movements, starting from the movement of the squares, have laid claim to citizenship understood as a condition of political dignity and a state of political empowerment, and not just a bundle of rights and duties. Furthermore, they have laid claim to the notion of sovereignty, to the idea that democratic states need to reassert their power over a territory, if they are to act as an effective countervailing force to the power of capital and finance. These trends signal in their combination a significant redirection of social movement efforts in the 21st century, away from the pursuit of an anti-statist politics of autonomy and towards the construction of a politics of citizenship and sovereignty, that aims at the construction of people’s power, and at the recuperation of state institutions.

 

 

 

 

 

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