The worldwide urban mobilizations: conundrums of 'democracy', 'the middle class' and 'the people'. Supported by Focaal and the IUAES Commission on Global Transformation and Marxian Anthropology

Massimiliano Mollona (Goldsmiths College)
Don Kalb (University of Bergen)
Start time:
3 August, 2014 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

What is the nature of the contemporary urban protests, as evidenced in the recent rounds of worldwide urban contentions? What is their class basis? How can we read these urban phenomena within the broader scalar hierarchies and transformative processes of the state, capital, and the world system?

Long abstract:

On June 17th, 2013, two million people across Brazil protested against the increase in transport fares planned by the government in preparation to the 2016 Olympic Games, forcing the president of Brazil to proclaim a national plebiscite for political reform. In opposing housing speculation and displacement of low-income families, the demonstrators made the specific claim that equal access to the city is a fundamental civic right. Similar mobilizations were happening in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, all resulting in a change of government. Urban Turkey, too, was shaken by massive urban uprisings; Southern European countries meanwhile continued to witness occasional mass gatherings in the recent Indignado mode or within older left wing traditions. Social scientists and political activists have often looked at these urban protests with optimism - as forms of subaltern uprisings (Castells 2012; for Latin America see Sugraynes and Mathivet 2010); as organised commoning against the rentier economy of late capitalism (Harvey 2012; Susser 2013) or as the praxes of new constituent subjectivities (Douzinas 2013; Graeber 2012). But with their hybrid forms - between riot, direct action, peaceful demonstration, and public occupation - and generally middle-class self-identifications, these movements defeat easy interpretations. Moreover, their hopeful starts as 'spontaneous rebellions' are often bitterly contradicted by their subsequent co-optation into conservative and rightwing coalitions. What role does the 'certified language' of corruption play in this regard? Which factors, general or contingent, help to explain their articulating towards right or left?