On 25 January 2011, Egyptians took to the streets to protest against injustice and oppression. These public demonstrations lasted for three weeks, during which this peaceful tidal wave of people did not abate, culminating in the resignation of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak. These field notes, taken during two days of the protests, register the pendulum swings from hope to fear as recorded by one Egyptian anthropologist.
Thoughts from the Midan
In The Armies of the Night (1968) and Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968/2008) Norman Mailer details the exploits of the anti-Vietnam war protestors and his role in the protests. With an ethnographer’s eye for detail and a novelist’s eye for imagery, he constructs a picture of youthful fear and exuberance, a totalitarian reaction to protest, and documents an America which he realises is slowing eating itself. In these nonfi ction novels, he places himself at the centre of events, interpreting the data through his own frazzled, drink-fuelled, mischievous self. This article utilises Pierre Bourdieu’s methodological framework of refl exive sociology to both critically analyse Mailer as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher and ask whether inquiry into social protest can be adequately conducted through the autobiographical gaze of a novelist. It is argued that by using such literary resources and techniques, we can, in the spirit of C. Wright Mills, move to a more public sociology where literary techniques are valued, rather than dismissed as unscientific.
The Edible Ballot Society and the Performance of Citizenship
During the 2000 Canadian federal election, members of the Edible Ballot Society (EBS) protested what they considered to be the “futility of electoral politics” by eating their ballots. This article argues that these actions, while illegal, were performances of citizenship intended to produce a creative rupture in the given definition of the Canadian state and electoral process. The analysis is informed by critical scholarship on protest and humor, and draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s analysis of carnival and Engin Isin’s framework of “acts of citizenship” to situate the EBS protest as a form of prefigurative politics that is embedded in and yet challenges neoliberal discourse. The EBS action attempted to highlight the Canadian state’s refusal to accept its own emergence as an ongoing political project rather than a static entity, and was pushback against the proscribed voting process designed to open up new spaces for democratic reform.
The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits), has been a prominent site of student protests since 2015. In the midst of the conflicts various Wits actors claimed or implied a special democratic legitimacy. This article examines five exercises at Wits: the election of student representatives, the student protest movement, a student petition, a management-initiated poll and an aborted General Assembly. These exercises are scrutinised and scored along six democratic dimensions: directness, participation, representation, pluralism, equality and deliberation. According to the weak thesis, this dimensional analysis reveals a landscape of democratic complexity that belies the claim of any one actor to a superior democratic model. According to the strong thesis, there is a particular problem with democratic practices that score weakly in terms of representation. The weakness of the ‘fallist’ student movement in the representation dimension undercuts its claim to prefigure a superior form of comprehensive university-wide democracy.
A System Justification Perspective
Vivienne Badaan, John T. Jost, Danny Osborne, Chris G. Sibley, Joaquín Ungaretti, Edgardo Etchezahar and Erin P. Hennes
Psychological factors that encourage—as well as discourage— participation in social protest are often overlooked in the social sciences. In this article, we draw together recent contributions to the understanding of the social and psychological bases of political action and inaction from the perspective of system justification theory. This perspective, which builds on theory and research on the “belief in a just world,” contends that—because of underlying epistemic, existential, and relational needs to reduce uncertainty, threat, and social discord—people are motivated (to varying degrees, as a function of personality and context) to defend, bolster, and justify the legitimacy of the social, political, and economic systems on which they depend. We review evidence that, alongside political conservatism and religiosity, system justification helps to explain resistance and acquiescence to the status quo in sociopolitical contexts as diverse as Lebanon, New Zealand, Argentina, and the United States.
The Hot Autumn of 2010 and the Transformation of Labor Contention in France
This article asks whether the wave of protest in the fall of 2010 in France can be interpreted as evidence of persisting radicalism. It argues that, in spite of appearances, the French labor movement is no longer radical. This claim does not imply that industrial conflict is disappearing. Strong legacies and institutional processes still feed conflict in the workplace and often push workers to use contentious, extra-institutional means; but industrial conflict is not what it used to be, with the total number of working days lost to strikes decreasing steadily over the past forty years, and with conflict itself being reconfigured and transformed. Labor contention is no longer driven by an offensive agenda and has become essentially defensive. If there is radicalism left in France, it might be best described as a "radicalism of tradition." The article concludes by discussing the relevance of "radicalism" as an analytical category to make sense of labor contention in contemporary France.
The Conflict Between Ungdomshuset and Faderhuset
Stine Krøijer and Inger Sjørslev
This article is concerned with the idea of societal 'spaciousness' and its relationship to individual and collective autonomy. These issues are analyzed in the context of the eviction of a self-managed social center of left-radical activists in Copenhagen and the protests and public debate that followed. The authors find that societal spaciousness in Denmark is metaphorically associated with a house or a limited physical space. People should limit themselves in public space, as in a house, to 'make room' for all. Because youngsters are not conceived of as fully fledged political subjects who are able to conduct themselves appropriately in public space, they become a group of special concern. The authors argue that space should be conceived as a dimension of social relations, and that sociality relies on a temporal assemblage of people, things, and imaginaries with space.
An Analysis of the Ethnic Issue in Israel
While acknowledging the decisive contribution of conflict sociology to our understanding of the (Jewish) ethnic issue in Israel, this article focuses on the actual political behavior of the Mizrahi population. Instead of developing radical social protest movements as might be expected, the Mizrahim have largely supported right-wing parties and policies. The article argues that in response to their exclusion from full membership in the Jewish-Israeli collective that the veteran Ashkenazim constructed, and from the material and symbolic goods that such membership entails, the Mizrahim have built a counter-collectivity. Using the cultural tool kit that they acquired in their experience of modernization in North Africa and the Middle East, the Mizrahim have created a (semi-) traditional ethno-religious Jewish collectivity from which they have excluded veteran left-wing Ashkenazim, accusing them of disloyalty and delegitimizing their Jewish identity.
This article narrates the development of the antinuclear movement from the bottom up, showing how local protests initiated changes in Germans' ideas about democracy and public participation, precipitating the Green Party's emergence. The narrative begins with the pre-history of the 1975 occupation of the Wyhl reactor site in Southern Baden. It shows that vintners' concerns about the future of their livelihoods underpinned protests at Wyhl, but argues that the anti-reactor coalition grew in breadth after government officials' perceived misconduct caused local people to connect their agricultural concerns with democracy matters. It then explains how local protests like the Wyhl occupation influenced the formation of the German Green Party in the late 1970s, showing how the sorts of convergences that occurred amidst “single issue” protests like the anti-Wyhl struggle enabled a wide variety of activists to come together in the new party. Thus, the article argues that particular, local concerns initiated a rethinking of participation in electoral politics. Far from fracturing society, these local concerns promoted diverse new coalitions and shaped an inclusive approach to electoral politics.
The social construction of student activists and the limits of student engagement
This article explores the limits of student engagement in higher education in the United Kingdom through the social construction of student activists within media discourses. It scrutinises the impact of dominant neoliberal discourses on the notion of student engagement, constructing certain students as legitimately engaged whilst infantilising and criminalising those who participate in protest. Exploring media coverage of and commentary on students engaged in activism, from the 2010 protests against university fee increases and from more recent activism in 2016, the article draws upon Sara Ahmed’s (2014) Willful Subjects and Imogen Tyler’s (2013) Revolting Subjects to examine critically the ways in which some powerful discourses control and limit which activities, practices and voices can be recognised as legitimate forms of student engagement.