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2020 ECPR Winter School in Methods & Techniques

The Invocation of the People: The Movements of 2011-2012 and the National/transnational Articulations of the "Popular"

Paolo Gerbaudo
Kings College London
Paolo Gerbaudo
Kings College London

The recent wave of social movements of 2011-2012 which has seen mass mobilisations spreading from Egypt and Tunisia, to the anti-capitalist movements of Spain, Greece and the US has sparked a debate about the changing nature of contemporary social movements. This array of social movements is characterised by a huge internal difference in terms of goals and organisational structures. However they share a number of common features which can lead to see them as part of a common transnational protest wave starkly different from the cycle of so-called anti-globalisation protests of the late 90s to early 2000s. Specifically, the movements of 2011-2012 are characterised by a common emphasis on the “people” as the subject mobilised in these protest events. Eschewing the minoritarian which underlied to a great extent the anti-globalisation movement, with its self-understanding as a coalition of minorities, these movements make majoritarian claims, which are particularly resonant during a phase of deep crisis of legitimacy of political institutions.
My paper aims to reconstruct the transnational commonalities of such invocation of the “people” as the subject of current protest movements. Drawing on the work on identity by Alberto Melucci, and the nuanced discussion of “populism” as a political logic in Ernesto Laclau, my paper will highlight how in invoking the people contemporary movements are torn between nationalist references and an appeal to transnational solidarity against the political and economic elite. Contemporary movements thus raise the question of whether and to what extent can contemporary movements develop an understanding of the "people" as a transnational subject, or whether this notion is inevitably rooted within a national(ist) framing.
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