Follow Us on Twitter

FocaalBlog is associated with Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. It aims to accelerate and intensify anthropological conversations beyond what a regular academic journal can do, and to make them more widely, globally, and swiftly available.

Recent Forum Topics

Conversations on the Left

  • David Bozzini: Gabriella Coleman on the ethnography of digital politics – part 2

    David Bozzini is a research fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where he is researching on Eritrean deserters movements and on the resistance to digital surveillance. He co-edits Tsantsa, the journal of the Swiss Ethnological Society. Gabriella Coleman is an anthropologist and holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University in… more...

  • David Bozzini: Gabriella Coleman on the ethnography of digital politics – part 1

    David Bozzini is a research fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where he is researching on Eritrean deserters movements and on the resistance to digital surveillance. He co-edits Tsantsa, the journal of the Swiss Ethnological Society. Gabriella Coleman is an anthropologist and holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University in… more...

  • Zoltán Glück: Of politics and crowds: A conversation with Susan Buck-Morss

    This interview with Susan Buck-Morss took place at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center on May 12 2015. Buck-Morss is Distinguished Professor of Political Philosophy at the Graduate Center and has been a towering figure in continental theory since her publication of The Origin of Negative Dialectics in 1977. Her books include… more...

  • Ida Susser: From the underground resistance under Franco to Podemos, with Vicente Navarro

    Vicente Navarro is a leading analyst of the history and origins of the financial crisis in Spain (and Europe in general) and an economic adviser to Podemos. His book There Are Alternatives (Hay Alternativas: Propuestas para Crear Empleo y Bienestar Social en España), written with economists Juan Torres and Alberto Garzón, became an inspiration to… more...

  • Zoltán Glück: Archive of a Radical Geographer: Neil Smith’s Papers—An Interview with Don Mitchell

    In 2014, Don Mitchell was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Advanced Research Collaborative, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). His primary project during this time was to sort through the large collection of papers, files, clippings, and correspondences left behind by Neil Smith after his untimely death in… more...

  • Zoltán Glück: Focaal Interview with David Harvey – Part 2

    The Conversations on the Left project by Focaal opens its series with an interview with David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center. David Harvey’s works have had a profound impact on the direction of leftist social science over the past four decades. A few months before this interview, in May 2013, an impressive… more...

  • Zoltán Glück: Focaal Interview with David Harvey – Part 1

    The Conversations on the Left project by Focaal opens its series with an interview with David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center. David Harvey’s works have had a profound impact on the direction of leftist social science over the past four decades. A few months before this interview, in… more...

Features

The Worldwide Urban Mobilizations

Conundrums of “Democracy,” “The Middle Class,” and “The People”

Editors: Massimiliano Mollona & Don Kalb

What is the nature of the contemporary cycles of urban protest, as evidenced in the recent rounds of “worldwide” urban contentions? What is their class basis, and what are their “class compasses” (Therborn)? Should we see them as revolutionary, reformist, or conservative— or are they rather an uneasy populist hybrid, open for multiple possible articulations? How can we read these urban phenomena within the broader scalar hierarchies and transformative processes of the state, capital, and the world system? Are they, in all their variety, perhaps aspects and provisional local outcomes of global urban transformation? Or should we refuse to universalize and continue to treat them as separate happenings, occasioned by particular place-based conditions, as they themselves often seem to claim, while freely drawing inspiration from each other? In particular, what role does the idea of “the middle class” play here, including the associated symbols of “corruption,” “transparency,” “democracy,” and “the people”?

On 17 June 2013, two million people across Brazil protested against the increase in transport fares planned by the government in preparation for 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. Are these urban rebellions continuations of the annus mirabilis of 2011, of which the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring became emblematic?

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 organized 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 right-wing coalitions. What role does the “certified language” of corruption play in this regard? Which factors, general or contingent, help to explain their articulating toward right or left?


References
Castells Manuel. 2012. Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet Age. London: Polity.

Douzinas, Costas. 2013. Philosophy and resistance in the crisis. Greece and the future of Europe. London: Wiley.

Harvey, David. 2012. Rebel cities. London: Verso.

Greaber, David. 2012. Debt: The first 5000 years. New York: Melville House.

Susser, Ida, and Stéphane Tonnelat. 2013. Transformative cities: The three urban commons. Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 66: 105.

Sugraynes Ana, and Charlotte Mathivet, eds. 2010. Cities for all: Proposals and experiences towards the right to the city. Chile: Habitat International Coalition (HIC).

Contents