The Indignant Citizen: From the Politics of Autonomy to the Politics of Radical Citizenship

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Paolo GERBAUDO, Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
The explosion of anti-austerity protests in Europe in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008 has been accompanied by a profound reframing of protest culture. One of the most interesting trends in this context has been the adoption of discourses of citizenship in Southern European movements. This trend can be seen in “ciudadanismo” (literally “citizenism”) in the Spanish indignados wave of protest, casting the citizenry against a corrupt political class, in the use of terms as “aganaktismenoi polites” (indignant citizens) in Greece, as well as in the discussions about new citizenship rights by popular assemblies in protest camps, and in the manifestos of key protest organisations. I will argue that the meaning of this new discourse on citizenship can be read at two levels. First, civic discourse allows anti-austerity movements to position themselves as a legitimate and inclusive collective actor unifying a variety of economic grievances produced by the financial crisis (indebtedness, unemployment, labour precarity) around the subject-position of the “aggrieved citizen”. Second, the discourse of citizenship provides these movements with an empowering vision and a civilizing mission of re-appropriation of political institutions from which citizens feel excluded. The discourse of citizenship, and the radical reformist orientation that underpins it are promising developments in the attempt to marry idealism and pragmatism, in order to face the situation of social emergency created by the financial crisis and austerity policies. However, this approach also entails a number of problems due to the association of citizenship with nationality, and the risk of subsumption of social movements in the political class.