Assemblies and the struggle to diffuse power

Ethnographic examples and contemporary practices

in Focaal

The article is focused on the practical mechanisms of assembly management in egalitarian settings in a comparative perspective: on the one hand, I examine assemblies in what may be termed classic ethnographic settings (principally East African pastoralists); on the other hand, I turn to meetings in recent social movements (the Occupy movement in the United States and Slovenia; the 15M in Spain; Greece and Bosnia). I have two principal aims. First, I wish to identify and evaluate similarities and differences in the running of meetings with regard to processes of consensus building; the coordination of assemblies through the creation of roles and the menace of leadership; and the management of place, time, and speech. Second, I aim to evaluate current social movements' use of alterpolitics, intended as the practical and imaginary reference to group meetings of the historical, sectarian, or ethnic other.