New Approaches to Community Organizing: Affinity, Anarchism, and the Occupy Movement in the US (Dissertation Project)
Dissertation in Political Science
First supervisor: Prof. Margit Mayer
Second supervisor: Prof. Christian Lammert
Third supervisor: Prof. Barbara Epstein
Starting with the Direct Action movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s up to recent discussions on Occupy, accounts of new anarchist social movements regularly figure the members’ “infatuation” with community as one of the main reasons for their (perceived) failure or decline. At the same time, participants and observers commonly praise the very same sense of intense commonality as that which makes out the spirit and appeal of such movements. This project seeks to shed light on the seemingly contradictory accounts of community as making/breaking new anarchist movements.
As much as many have explicitly or implicitly acknowledged the centrality of the category of community for anarchist organizing, up to date no study has thoroughly analyzed its valences and functions in this context. While some post-anarchist thinkers (Richard Day, Saul Newman) have devoted special attention to the issue, their poststructuralist approaches, inspired by the likes of Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze, and Ernesto Laclau generally lack a direct engagement with activists and their experiences. The studies providing a more direct, insider perspective (Barbara Epstein, David Graeber) seem to exhibit an aversion towards “high theorizing” and therefore deny the theoretical tools that may be helpful in dealing with such a slippery concept. I aim to bring the two different approaches together and provide a thorough account of anarchist communities. For this purpose, I draw on a variety of anarchist, post-anarchist, and post-structuralist primary and secondary literature. In addition, I will perform interviews with organizers and participants as well as engage in participant observation in two anarchist groups in the city of Oakland. By way of this approach I intend to further clarify the double nature of community as both internal strength and external weakness in the context of new anarchist social movements.