The Centre on Social Movement Studies


Contentious subjects: Spatial and relational perspectives on refugee mobilizations in Europe

Elias Steinhilper and Ilker Ataç

The chapter seeks to understand how precarious migrants (temporarily) succeed in organizing political protest against all evident odds. Comparing episodes of refugee activism in Austria and Germany, the analysis explores specific geographies of control in restrictive asylum regimes, and spatial repertoires to overcome them.

Picture description
Type: Chapter in edited book
Year: 2019

Political protest by ‘refugees’ has proliferated worldwide, yet has only received marginal attention in social movement studies. According to dominant movement theories, migrants are unlikely subjects of mobilization due to legal obstacles (including ‘deportability’), limited economic and social capital and closed political and discursive opportunities. Building upon recent innovations in contentious politics, which stress the ‘relational qualities of space’, the authors comparatively sketch out and theorize processes of self-organized refugee activism in Austria and Germany. It is argued that experiences of isolation and exclusion from society have fundamentally shaped the life-worlds of ‘refugees’ and the contentious strategies they have chosen to overcome spaces of control and disintegration: mobile tactics such as marches and bus tours as well as autonomous camps and occupied buildings are central components of refugees’ repertoire of contention across the two national contexts the authors explored. In both cases, appropriating and accessing spaces with favourable relational qualities was crucial for transforming localized dissent into larger mobilizations.

Steinhilper, Elias and Ilker Ataç (2019): Contentious Subjects. Spatial and Relational Perspectives on Refugee Mobilizations in Europe. In: K. Mitchell, R. Jones and J. F. Fluri: Handbook on Critical Geographies of Migration. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.




Protest for a future: international report on #FridaysForFuture and the climate strike

Composition, mobilization and motives of the participants in Fridays For Future climate protests on 15 March 2019, in 13 European cities. A multi-country collaboration report, with contributions from COSMOS researchers Lorenzo Zamponi, Donatella della Porta, Martín Portos, Niccolò Bertuzzi and Daniela Chironi.


Call for papers: "The Nation and the Radical Left - Practices and Discourses of National Identity in Left-Wing Politics"

The call for papers is now open for a conference on national identities and left-wing politics.


Call for papers: “Class without consciousness” – The Politics of Fragmented Class Identities

The call for papers is now open for a two-day conference on class and identities at the Scuola Normale Superiore on 14-15 November 2019


Journal Article - 2019

Ballots and barricades enhanced: far‐right ‘movement parties’ and movement‐electoral interactions

Andrea Pirro
This contribution enhances our understanding of the contemporary far right by focusing on the neglected links between movements and elections within the broader context of contention.

Journal Article - 2019

From the Rainy Place to the Burnt Palace: How Social Movements Form their Political Strategies. The Case of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba

Leonidas Oikonomakis
Exploring the case of the cocaleros of the Chapare, this article argues that more emphasis should be placed on mechanisms that are internal to the movements, such as: (a) the resonance of other political experiences at home and abroad, (b) internal struggles for ideological hegemony, and (c) the political formation of their grassroots.