The Squares Movements and the Resurgence of Popular Democracy

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Paolo GERBAUDO , Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
This paper argues that the squares' movements of 2011-12, a protest cycle comprising the indignados in Spain and Greece to Occupy Wall Street in the US and the UK marks a turn in collective action with a renewed majoritarian ambition and the aim to refound democratic institutions. I attempt to capture the nature of this popular identity by contrasting it with the countercultural identity that dominated the anti-globalisation movement. Analysing materials originating from a long term ethnographic research, I identify two fundamental traits of the squares movements, a) majoritarianism and b) emphasis on unity, opposing them to the minoritarianism and emphasis on autonomy of the anti-globalisation movement. The squares movements appeal to the majority of the population rather than to an idealistic minority, calling citizens to embrace a new 'democracy 2.0'. Furthermore, they put much emphasis on unity, in contrast with the emphasis on internal autonomy and diversity of anti-globalisation activists. The article proceeds to gauge the significance of this popular turn and its reflection of the democratic crisis of contemporary societies. I assert that the adoption of a popular identity bespeaks the spread of social grievances amidst the global financial crisis, and the capacity of appeals to resistance to resonate with different sectors of the population beyond the activists milieux. Finally, I argue that the squares' movements are best understood as transitional movements, and moments of foundation and social recomposition of a new democratic system beyond the neoliberal corporate state. These movements present many opportunities for the development of a progressive democratic politics, but they are also ridden with deep contradictions, in their proceduralism and the lack of substantive demands beyond democratic demands.