Activists and Activism In The Occupy Movements In France and In Ireland

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Didier CHABANET , Triangle (Social and Political Science), Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Lyon, France
Frédéric ROYALL , School of LLCC, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
In the autumn of 2011, attempts were made to set up Occupy movements in Ireland and in France. Aside from some initial displays of solidarity initially, the general public in the two countries paid little attention to initiatives and Occupiers enjoyed very limited success in mobilizing even a modest number of people. This paper argues that the reasons for the weak level of mobilization and of public support in France and in Ireland are related to movements’ internal characteristics – their focus on non-hierarchical structures, the sociological make-up of their members, their tenuous and confrontational relations with potentially key allies, etc. This led to a situation whereby despite widespread feelings of anger and frustration regarding the state of the countries’ social and economic affairs, activist failed to generate mass participation, they did not succeed in transforming their narrow interests into symbols that concerned society as a whole, and that they were never hailed as champions of the public good.

In this paper I look only at one specific aspect of the movements’ failures: the movements’ internal characteristics. The movements brought together leaders and activists that came from far different social milieus. This led to considerable tensions within the camps in a very short time and to the movements’ very rapid demise. Limited by the small number of the occupiers that had relevant organizational experience and knowledge, and by the very severe internal tensions that led to ill-advised strategic choices, the movements never truly managed to widen their appeal.

The empirical investigation is based official documents, on newspaper coverage in Le Progrès, Sud Ouest, and Le Monde (France) and in The Irish Examiner and The Irish Times (Ireland), and on in-depth interviews with French and Irish occupiers, organizers, civil society and alter-globalization activists, trade unionists, and political advisers.