Accepted paper:

The event and emergent social forms: concrete utopias of political association


Jan Bock (Cumberland Lodge)

Paper short abstract:

I explore emerging counter-hegemonic, micro-utopian civilian associations in political movements and creative initiatives after the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. I suggest that survivors experienced everyday life both as rigidly controlled and unscripted, prompting them to generate transformational micro-utopias.

Paper long abstract:

On 6 April 2009, a major earthquake hit the central Italian city of L'Aquila. 309 people died, 70,000 inhabitants were evacuated, and the Italian state launched a high-profile emergency operation championed by the then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The relief effort became a spectacle: sensationalist media coverage transformed funerals, tent camp life, and resettlement projects into globally circulating images of generous and efficient state management. Yet, on the ground, Aquilani interpreted the government intervention differently, criticising what they perceived as political disenfranchisement at the hand of state agencies, ruling by decree and depicting the survivors as a homogeneous, passive population of state-dependent rustics. Throughout successive stages of the relief effort and subsequent recovery periods, Aquilani creatively engaged with experiences of disenfranchisement and misrepresentation. In this paper, I document the formation of counter-hegemonic and micro-utopian civilian associations through political movements, protests, and creative initiatives in the earthquake aftermath. My concern lies with the origins and the repercussions of political initiatives, and with how Aquilani conceptualise their impact and legacy, to argue that the aftermath of extreme events is characterised by a succession of micro-utopian worlds, in which people experiment with new forms of communitarian association to confront violent transformations of the ordinary. I suggest that the displaced survivors experienced everyday life simultaneously as rigidly controlled and unscripted, in response to which they generated transformational micro-utopias, by which I refer to specific types of emergent social and political forms as a means of regain temporary control over one's existence.

panel P002
Micro-utopias: exploring connections in anthropology, relationality and creativity