Two Failures of Left Internationalism

Political Mimesis at French University Counter-Summits, 2010–2011

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Eli Thorkelson Stellenbosch University

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After the unsuccessful end of the spring 2009 French university movement, faculty and student activists searched for new political strategies. One promising option was an internationalist project that sought to unite anti-Bologna Project movements across Europe. Yet an ethnographic study of two international counter-summits in Brussels (March 2010) and Dijon (May 2011) shows that this strategy was unsuccessful. This article explores the causes of these failures, arguing that activist internationalism became caught in a trap of political mimesis, and that the form of official international summits was incompatible with activists’ temporal, representational, and reflexive needs.

Contributor Notes

Eli Thorkelson is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University. He writes about French university politics, culture, and precarious labor, and is working on an ethnographic book about the historical contradictions of left-wing philosophy in the Paris banlieue, tentatively entitled Disappointed Utopia: Radical Philosophy in Postcolonial France. He blogs about his research at Decasia ( and more generally about critical ethnography of higher education at Academography ( Email:

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