Belief over Strategy

Themes in current portion of dissertation writing:

Analysis of moments where we see how political beliefs take primacy over political strategizing.

That is, an anarchist who does not vote (belief) is unlikely to engage in discussion of strategic uses of voting (even by others, not requiring her to vote) because it is ‘wrong’ because ‘it wont fix anything.’ While it sounds like strategy, it essentially returns to positing insurrection vs. reform, with reform being ‘wrong’ or ‘undesirable.’ However, anything that cannot be paired/aligned with (stylistically violent mass) insurrection is thus ‘othered’ as reformist and, thus bad.

The implication is that reform is pushed by reformists, who are morally in the wrong. This limits political imagination, and, further, may be dangerous in the sense of opening up radical politics to the pitfalls of being comfortable with failure (supports moral high ground) which is fine for essentially ‘safe’ upper mid class whites, AND in the sense of pitfalls/traps of commodification and even cooption of practices (blind to fact that they are approaching it morally, and seem to think it is strategic). But if these were strategic (rather than moral) debates, there would be actual debate, experimentation, exploration, imagination.

The question ultimately becomes, then, is where is room for strategic thinking that allows beliefs to be maintained but bracketed such that they do not immediately forestall exploration and experimentaiton with possibilities.

Dissertation Distillations 1

Im almost done.
I'll be posting sections and pieces,abstracts and selections; follow along for a shorter read of the lumbering beast.

Transcripts of fieldnotes recorded the night of Occupy Philadelphia’s eviction from its two-month encampment at the doorstep of City Hall:

At around 11pm on November 29th, 2011, I began to receive emails, texts, tweets and Facebook updates about rumors of an impending eviction of the Occupy Philadelphia encampment at City Hall. I was chatting online with a friend, checking out bands for a benefit show he needed help organizing, when he shared word of police confirmation of the eviction, passed on to him by a friend who works for the local NBC affiliate. I suited up for the cold, wet night and hopped on my bike to alert a few friends before heading downtown.

I passed a local bar, where a Metal and Punk dance party was being held and shouted to Kathy, Jim and the other people smoking on the steps, most of whom I didn’t know. Though both Kathy and Jim had been working regularly with Occupy, neither seemed interested in leaving the music or the booze. The information moved quickly through the small crowd and, as I turned to leave, three people I didn’t know nodded at me as they hurriedly unlock their bikes. As I rode away, I heard a boy in a leather studded jacket loudly shout, “Who the fuck cares about that shit, [feigning a ‘hippie’ voice] the 60s are over man!” as the Dead Kennedy’s opined about Reagan on the stereo inside.

I turned north and headed to Mika’s house, a large Victorian duplex typical of this part of West Philly, where six self-identified ‘Queers’ were living collectively. Inside, I found twelve people, meeting to discuss plans for a series of events aimed at fostering Queer solidarity. When I shared the eviction news, blank stares told me quickly that the events at City Hall mattered little to this group. A person to my left commented, “Good, we weren’t made to feel welcome there, they deserve it” and a few others nodded. As I was leaving, a recent acquaintance, smoking on his porch across the street, waved me over; he helps out at a radical autonomous space in the area that has been around for decades. Though I knew he had not been involved with Occupy, I asked if he wanted to come along. “No,” he replied, “I haven’t been in the street since the RNC [Republican National Convention in 2000] and I’m pretty much done with that…Besides,” he chuckled, “someone has to keep the space running when y’all are all in jail or until you get bored fighting with the cops.”

When I arrived at City Hall, a close friend called me over and others made room in the locked-arm sit down the group was using to stall being moved by the police. She turned to me and said, “Of course, Tim, Mike, Sally and those kids aren’t here.”  I knew whom she was talking about, and I’d seen a few people from that group of friends once or twice in Occupy’s first few days, but I asked what she meant by her snark. “They’re just worried about not looking cool and, you know, they’re into being ‘grown-ups’ now, buying houses and starting businesses and [making a face] ‘serious’ politics…they go on and on about ‘community’ but I think it just means their community, vegan coffeeshops and all that. A few minutes ago, I saw Tim posted something on Facebook like ‘good luck kiddies’…what an ass.”

When the police finally moved us out of the street, we joined the much larger crowd that had formed on the sidewalk over the past hour. I was surprised to see a boy who had told me a week earlier that he was “done” with Occupy because of an interpersonal conflict he had had with a friend over organizing a march. He had felt that his friend hadn’t considered her own class and racial privilege when she argued that the march should try to get the cops to chase them. I smiled and said, “I thought you were done.” He replied, “Yeah, but I can’t pass up a chance to fight with the cops!”

That bike ride, quite literally, weaved through what can be described as the concrete, physical manifestation of radical-DIY culture in terms of networks of people and places, referred to here as Philadelphia’s ‘radical-DIY scene.’ The scene represents a combination of physical/spatial and sociocultural networks, linked via their radical-leftist political orientation and/or symbolic and cultural markers and practices that draw heavily from radical-DIY political culture (Leach & Haunss, 2009).

To most outside observers, many of these people and places would appear similar, and in many ways they are. They share a culture in the sense of shared ways of doing things, as patterns of speaking and acting that people practice in everyday situations; they share political convictions, styles of dress, tastes, social norms, signs and symbols, and specialized knowledge.

However, this passage also points to important differences, variations in what and how much is shared. Here we see not only significant variation in people’s opinions about Occupy Philly (they deserve it), but also variations in opinions about others’ opinions about Occupy Philly (60s are over), and political opinions about others’ lifestyles (buying houses) and how it relates to OP participation. Occupy Philly’s particular transect into the life of the radical-DIY scene reveals certain differences in political orientation, expressed here via the participation of some and the objection, disinterest, or even hostility of others. Indeed, as I continued research within the scene, I surprised at the variety of political orientations I encountered.

That said, despite differences in what and how much of the radical-DIY culture is shared by individuals throughout the scene, there is a striking similarity in the ways people talked about politics and expressed political belief. In the example above, while the reasons or justifications for nonparticipation varied, the manner or form in which these were framed, formulated, and expressed was surprisingly similar; here too we see the sort of rejection and difference expressed via moralizing talk.

As I continued my research, I found these forms of political talk and expression throughout Philadelphia’s radical-DIY scene, appearing in moments and around issues far afield from the concerns of Occupy. Years after Occupy, at Punk shows, in online discussions, at parties, at other protest mobilizations, and throughout the everyday world of the radical-DIY scene, I encountered forms political talk and expression replete with themes of rejection, difference-making, and moralizing.

Significantly, these wider patterns of rejection, difference, and moralizing actually hint at some of the concerns about the tactical and strategic viability of lifestyle or prefigurative politics that have been raised in debates among activists and academics since the 1970s. Of particular concern here is the possible tendency for lifestyle practices to “become targets of self-righteous moralizing and other forms of social policing,” or what Laura Portwood-Stacer calls “politicking over lifestyle,” and that this politicking over lifestyle “can fracture bonds of solidarity among activists who make different lifestyle choices” (Brown, 2001; Hill-Collins, 1998; Portwood-Stacer, 2013, p. 9). Further, the notion that one’s lifestyle is completely malleable via choice ignores (or at least downplays) the many issues of power and privilege at work in the formation of political identities and movements. Wendy Brown (2001) further suggests that such moralizing is not simply an issue of solidarity rupture, but that such moralizing represents an underlying political stance that actually “misleads about the nature of power, the state and capitalism; it misleads about the nature of oppressive forces, and about the scope of the project of transformation required by serious ambitions for justice” (Brown, 2001, p.37).

Brown’s argument in regarding moralizing behavior deeply influenced the development of this project and my initial guiding question – how does this happen? – began to make more sense reframed as “should this have been expected?” How can we explain these similarities, even in spite of the differences? How can we explain the behavior and its pervasiveness? Is the rejection, difference, and moralizing (RDM) I saw in OP and in the scene indicative of something about these politics and/or this culture more generally? If so, what might that be, and what are the implications for collective projects for social change built around these radical politics?

Many questions develop from this general line of investigation: when and around what issues do these RDM forms of political talk and expression appear, or appear more strongly; how is the discursive work of RDM done in interactions among individuals and groups; can a generalized basis or explanation for this behavior can be found within the political culture itself and its radical prefigurative political ideology; what are the implications of these findings for radical politics themselves and for movements and other collective projects of social change built around radical prefigurative political ideologies?

It will be argued here that explanations can indeed be found within the radical prefigurative political ideology itself, in the way in which it understands itself, the radical project of social transformation in which it is engaged, and most importantly, in how it conceives of and understands the forces of power and oppression it aims to confront in that struggle. This radical, prefigurative, lifestyle-based political ideology promotes a view of social change that places the individual and individual choices and actions at the center. But the same thinking that encourages individuals to ‘be the change you want to see’ also leads to a similar (though inverse) personification of the forces being struggled against, a reification of systems of power and oppression in their effects. Sources of injustice, systems of oppression, and histories of injury remain obfuscated as the focus is instead placed on their effects as manifested in specific remarks or events, embodied in individuals and their actions.

Thus, in the research presented here, we find endless accusations and condemnations of individuals and their ‘privilege,’ instead of a radical analysis of the systems and sources of racism, sexism, and economic inequality that actually create and sustain that privilege in the lives of individuals. We find two people accused of being ‘party operatives’ and ‘encouraging participation in an evil system’ through voter registration instead of any radical critique or analysis of the systems of power and oppression at work in that ‘evil system,’ and what participation actually means and looks like. Perhaps most ironically, we find a seemingly endless supply of ‘gentrifier’ invectives and condemnations, but an almost outright refusal to acknowledge the complexity of the systems of power and injustice at work in processes of gentrification, let alone a willingness to admit radical-DIY culture’s own significant role in shaping and even accelerating it.

The following chapters will further develop and elaborate this argument.


Brown, W. (2001). Politics Out of History. Princeton University Press.

Hill-Collins, P. (1998). Fighting Words: Black Women and the Fight for Social Justice. Minneapolis: Univerity of Minnesota Press.

Leach, D. K., & Haunss, S. (2009). Scenes and social movements. In H. Johnston, Culture, Social Movements, and Protest (pp. 255–276). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Portwood-Stacer, L. (2013). Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.



Rejection and Difference II: ‘Bros’ and ‘Highschool Brats’

[ This post builds directly from and is meant to follow the previous post: Rejection and Difference I: ‘Centrists’ and ‘Children’ ]


Rejection and Difference II: ‘Bros’ and ‘Highschool Brats’

While authenticity continues to be a theme in prefigurative scene members’ difference-making, the basis for this rejection becomes more subtle and complex as we move fully into the scene and focus on interactions between scene members. The individuals discussed here share a greater number of prefigurative patterns of everyday life (i.e. deeper within the scene), though this does not mean they share political orientations. While they may hang out at similar places, eat and shop at the same places, and know many of the same people, this apparent ‘closeness’ obscures deep divisions in their understanding of what prefigurative politics are supposed to ‘do.’

For example, in the opening vignette, the Punk outside the bar who reminded me that ‘the 60s were over’ hints at one of these divisions in the scene, a particularly hostile one, between the scene groups seen in the first example and what, to use a recently created invective developed in a widely read local zine, could be called ‘Bros.’

This zine, titled Bros Fall Back, was written in May of 2013 and quickly spread throughout Philly’s radical-DIY scene; it is difficult to overstate the impact this zine had on conversations and interactions across the scene. It appears as part of a rising critical voice within the scene aimed at pointing out how supposedly Punk and radical spaces and scenes actually harbor racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and classist ideas, particularly when people come to the defense of someone accused of one of these demonstrating one of these behaviors (i.e. ‘he’s not a bad guy, he was just drunk’). From the zine:

A bro is someone who assumes that any space they enter is meant to cater to augmenting their personal experience. they “don’t give a fuck,” even at the expense of everyone around them. regardless of the presence of oppressive and problematic behavior, a bro will tirelessly try to appear aloof….interesting things, to a bro, are shocking, ironic, edgy, but vapid activities…a bro is too cowardly to express anything sincere.

            …Booking [Punk] shows isn’t a righteous, revolutionary pursuit. I just don’t want to have to tolerate the racist, patriarchical, queerphobic bullshit that I have to tolerate in most other spaces. I’m about alienating my enemies, not embracing them. If you’re thoughtlessly policing someone’s behavior or making fucked up jokes you’re acting like my enemy…claiming you didn’t have ill intent won’t save you and is not a thoughtful, thorough apology…

            When we have punk shows we are expressing a sentiment of ownership and belonging to the neighborhood, an entitlement to impose our culture on a specific geography. When we have punk shows we are paving the way for artists, hipsters, university students, and yuppies to feel safe and welcomed…We are the warning signs of gentrification…When we have punk shows we are inviting a historically white population [i.e. Punks] to take up space and make lots of noise in neighborhoods that are currently experiencing or already have experienced a certain degree of gentrification…

            …There should be more space to self-criticize ourselves, our friends, our scenes without a defeatist attitude. Instead we can utilize our politics for more than catchy song lyrics and patches, and try to employ them for uses that lend themselves to more valuable conversation.

The perceived problems with ‘bros’ are laid out with relative clarity here. In many ways, the zine is representative of a broader effort to reclaim or stake out a new understanding about what Philly’s Punk spaces should be. However, despite the very real and very important issues raised in the zine, the ensuing debates and discussions (many occurring online, where linked personal networks create a sort of ‘punk public’) were far messier and far more personal than the zine appears to have envisioned.

On one side, ‘zine supporters’ made repeated efforts to highlight how Punk spaces can not only be exclusionary but even hostile to those who do not fit the ‘traditional’ Punk archetype (i.e. white, nihilistic males). This is an issue that has been widely discussed in the literature on Punk, a long-term problem that has garnered intense debate over the past three decades. In interaction, however, these points were often made in a tone that suggested that ‘you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.’

Thus, while the zine does highlight significant problems facing this community, the tone of the writing and, more importantly, the tone taken by many of its supporters in online and real-life discussions ended up becoming the focus of debate and contention. In fact, the phrase ‘high school bullshit’ was an extremely common comment made by those who were made to feel alienated in these arguments. As one person put it to me after a show that featured physical altercations over this zine, they felt those rallying in support of the zine and it’s content were

…like snotty teenagers who think they know everything, like they’re the first to write about this, and that if you don’t know them personally, like hang out with them, then you’re automatically a racist patriarch who is ruining everything. And when you try to talk to any of them about it, they act like you’re too stupid to possibly get it, you haven’t read the right stuff, you never will, and you’re just not cool, or a punk, or radical enough or something. It’s fucking high school shit!

Online trolling, physical altercations, refusal to interact or discuss in scene spaces, and a great deal of gossiping appeared to infect this important discussion about the manifestation of racism, sexism, queerphobia, etc. within the radical-DIY scene, leading many people to remove themselves entirely from any discussion on these issues. This is clearly not an ideal outcome for the zine’s authors who, at least nominally, were seeking ‘valuable self-critical conversation.’  However, it is inline with what a supporter (and possibly one of the zine’s multiple, but anonymous authors) told me the ‘real goal’ was: to be an explicitly trolling text, meant to incite anger and discontent. This again pushes us to reconsider what prefigurative, identity-based lifestyle politics are suppose to do in these situations. Was the prefigurative thrust in the zine’s development aimed at modeling the values of a new world, or, was it aimed at the selective, particular and even opportunistic deployment of identity in pursuit of starting arguments and ‘getting in their faces and kicking them out for the new crew,’ as one supporter claimed it was?

In fact, this confrontational tone quickly mutated into an ‘us vs. them’ dynamic that pushed even small, tangential discussions into heated and contentious arguments. The very definition of a ‘bro’ became a key point of contention as interactions across this scene gulf became more hostile; some were clearly interested in determining whether others considered them a ‘bro,’ while others wanted to point out perceived hypocrisies in the positions of those defending the zine’s arguments.

The latter, often took the form of simple rejection of the authors and their approach to these issues as being ‘self-involved,’ ‘written by graduate students,’ ‘too PC,’ ‘written by people who haven’t been involved in the scene for decades like I have,’ or ‘classist in its very use of big words and theory.’  Another major problem for many of those who felt alienated or targeted by the zine was the refusal of the authors or their supporters to further explain their positions or the issues raised, with the consistent refrain: ‘It is not the job of the oppressed to explain their oppression to their oppressors,’ or ‘read a book.’  It was this response that usually led to explosive confrontation, with one bro commenting to me as she walked away from an argument at a show,

“Who the fuck do these people think they are?  Of course there are problems. I’m a goddamn woman who plays goddamn punk, you think I don’t know about these problems, you act like I DON’T KNOW [shouting back toward argument]. But I don’t get all bratty about it, I actually work against it, where it lives. But to just sit there and complain and say people are being awful to you and then refuse to explain yourself further and only say ‘figure it out yourself’…I don’t know, its just so fucking self-righteous. I mean, I honestly don’t know much about this stuff and I don’t know where I’m supposed to start…I never went to college, I don’t know how to dig into this theory or whatever.”

In fact, the direct responses of ‘bros’ to these sorts of accusations are equally interesting given our interest in authenticity. Perhaps the most telling example comes from the many, many discussions and exchanges that revolved around issues of privilege. Over and over again, when white male bros were accused of not recognizing their white privilege, their responses could be consistently summarized as ‘I don’t have privilege, I grew up poor.’  Here, the recourse to class (‘I grew up poor’) is a return to the working-class aesthetics and ideals that form a fundamental part of Punk’s overall mythos. In fact, many of the most visible symbolic cultural markers of Punk in general could be read as an exercise in down classing, or even living without class privilege – dirty clothes, dumpster diving, train hopping, squatting, cheap alcohol, etc.

In the examples given above the theme of authenticity rises again, in two forms. First, the responses of bros consistently rejected the notion of privilege by emphasizing their ‘authentic’ Punk self as being ‘in the scene for over a decade,’ ‘the kind of person who actually does the work of punk like setting up shows,’ exuding nihilistic irony, and (at least symbolically) living a working-class life. Further, the more personal criticisms and invectives lobbed at the zine’s authors and supporters generally either tried to frame them as inauthentic Punks (‘new kids in the city who just want attention,’ ‘graduate students,’ ‘just want to destroy the community’), or, as hypocrites and, thus, inauthentic in their own self-presentation.

Second, it also possible to see issues of authenticity at work the behavior and discourse of zine supporters, particularly in sense of in/out-group dynamics . Here the complex radical politics presented in the zine appear to speak in terms of essentialized identities, particularly in the sense of reifying systems of oppression into specific, particular people and actions rather than viewing these people and actions as manifestations of much deeper and more complex systems of oppression).  By using essentialized identities to do the work of rejection and difference, these individuals can also be seen as constructing their own identities as more authentic radicals than the Punks who were not “welcome in the cool club” as a zine supporter phrased it in a screaming match outside a Punk show.

My project is built around a series of questions about what this sort of political culture offers or means in terms of collective projects of social change.  It seeks to raise some concerns that in reifying power within individuals and actions, power remains obfuscated.  The leftist-radical obsession with lifestyle choices as the self-directed and self-conscious construction of political identity not only encourages the commodification(as fetishization) of political identity [i.e. the assumption that we are free to choose and make identities however we want; that we are not limited in this endeavor, or, that the ability to do so may be a privilege many do not enjoy; wherein the process of the selection and display of a radical identity mirrors the process of self-creation via commodity consumption], buuuut, the flip-side of this views ‘bro’ individual and ‘bro’ actions not as manifestations of power, but as oppression itself.  Again, this is not to discount micro-level impact of individuals’ actions (saying fucked up things is fucked up).  Rather, it is to suggest that this line of thinking means that as long as the individual-reified-as-oppresion, bro, can be targeted/avoided/estranged/removed, then power too goes with them; however, power remains lurking in the corner.

DrunkPunks who self-construct as ‘outside of capitalism,’ and those who self-construct as ‘outside/above bros’ are doing similar things. Just because you start every Punk show or event noting that (an elusive) ‘we’ are “against -isms of all kinds,” does not mean that the -isms aren’t at work in the room.  Unfortunately, the politics themselves, the Western left-radical-DIY politics of identity and prefiguration, imply otherwise and they lack the tools to pursue systems (not manifestations) of oppression and power any further than the gates of the marketplace of ideas.

Rejection and Difference I: ‘Centrists’ and ‘Children’

[As the dissertation work takes real shape, I find nuggets and sections like this that I can share without need to preface it with an entire history of everything]

In the final sections of Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism, Portwood-Stacer argues that questions about the effectiveness of prefigurative lifestyle politics (or any political action) can only be asked in relation to specific historical and spatial contexts. She is echoing Robin Kelley’s (1996) observation that “certain forms of resistance create their own limits,” and that these are “limits that can be understood only in specific historical and spatial contexts. It is hoped that this historical and spatial specificity can be achieved here through the application of scenes to the concrete reality of everyday life for today’s Punks and radicals in Philadelphia.

My project aims to explore a number of interrelated issues within this specified context. It asks after issues of power and privilege at work in the formation of prefigurative political identities and how this relates to the tendency for lifestyle practices to “become targets of self-righteous moralizing and other forms of social policing,” or what Laura Portwood-Stacer calls “politicking over lifestyle” (Portwood-Stacer 2013:9). Further, the project investigates how, in this case, such politicking can “fracture bonds of solidarity among activists who make different lifestyle choices,” with dual interest in fracturing within the scene itself and in relation to Occupy Philly, thus taking up Leach and Haunss’ call for research into the “negative effects scenes may have on movements ” (Leach and Haunss 2009:21).

Therefore, the project takes issues of solidarity and rupture as a means to approaching its empirical work, with the understanding that rupture or ‘distancing’ can occur in a variety of ways. Indeed, because identities “are constructed through, not outside, difference” and can “function as points of identification and attachment only because of their capacity to exclude, to leave out, to render ‘outside,’ abjected,” the project is interested not only individuals’ conscious rejection or dismissal of other groups or people, but also the rejection and difference embedded in the very formation of prefigurative political identities (Hall 2000:18).

Rejection and Difference I: ‘Centrists’ and ‘Children’

My first encounters with the rejection and difference work done by scene members in and around Occupy Philly (OP) were difficult to ignore. In fact, the high tension and strong emotions expressed in these moments were what inspired the focus on rejection and difference work in the first place. While it was easy to see the obvious points of contention between radical leftists and, say, the Ron Paul supporters who maintained a significant presence at OP, the divisions and distancing that occurred between prefigurers and more moderate leftists was surprising and, at times, entirely unexpected.

One example stands out in particular; the following passage is from my fieldnotes taken at a GA held in January of 2012:

Two middle-aged men brought a proposal to a sparsely attended GA asking if OP would support voter registration drives in Philadelphia, particularly in the poorer sections of the city where voter registration and turn-out is incredibly low. They were not asking for material support or even door-to-door help; he asked to use the OP logo on the voter registration materials. They ended their presentation by asking, “Is the GA going to vote in line with the interests of disenfranchisement?”  It is important note that Pennsylvania is at the center of a nationwide push to make voting more difficult through ID requirements other hurdles.

Scene members seem to outnumber other groups at the GA (plus they are all sitting together, on a bench in the back of a huge mostly empty room). Their response was overwhelmingly negative. They began ganging up on the presenters and accusing them of, among other things, ‘trying to trap people in a broken system,’ ‘using guilt to and shame to make us [the GA] do things,’ and ‘being Democratic Party operatives.’  This finger-pointing quickly escalated as one or two older, white Quakers commented that ‘people died to get the right to vote’ and were immediately met with middle-fingers and accusations of ‘classism,’ ‘racism,’ and ‘privilege’ by the bench full of scene members. The scene members, at this point, were standing on the bench, getting in people’s faces, and some were crying. I’ve written ‘everyone is being awful’ four times in a row in my scribbled notes.

I followed the two men who brought the proposal back into the hallway and encountered them telling the facilitator leading the GA, “We don’t care so much about the ‘no’ vote, but the disrespect we felt was ridiculous. We are two black men trying to raise political consciousness in poor black neighborhoods in this city and we were shouted down and accused of all kinds of things by a bunch of radical kids…I mean, they were acting like children.”

It was clear in this moment that the focus of the scene member’s ire was the act of voting as an element of formal, institutionalized politics. This was a message repeated across the Occupy movement; further, the movement’s resistance to engaging in formal politics (by supporting candidates or shaping clear demands into a platform) was frequent point of criticism of Occupy, as suggested by Pickerill and Kinsky’s observations. In later interviews and online discussions, many scene members (both those involved in OP and not) made it clear that they thought voting didn’t encourage people to ‘think for themselves,’ and only helped to ‘support’ and ‘justify’ a ‘corrupt’ and ‘evil’ political system.

However, when asked for examples of work OP was doing that did encourage people to ‘think for themselves,’ people found it difficult to specify anything beyond the basic existence of OP as a visible form of resistance. To be sure, the spectacle of OP certainly spoke to and encouraged some people to ‘think for themselves.’  But as reflection in the years following OP have revealed, it seems that for many Philadelphians, this message-via-presence wasn’t so clear for everyone.

While this position vis-à-vis formal politics is expected and manifested itself in interactions throughout OP (e.g. resistance to dialogue with city government, tensions with unions engaging with OP), what is most interesting for this project is the manner in which this political orientation was commonly expressed. This example highlights the deeply personal way in which prefigurative perspectives tended to be set against those of more mainstream leftists. One person’s suggestion that registering to vote might ‘help people start thinking critically about politics in ways that you [scene members] already do’ was met by shouting, jeering, and what can only be described as scene members ganging up and forcing this person into silence and, eventually, early exit from the GA.

Indeed, it is not hard to hear scene members’ statements about voting as something akin to: ‘I don’t vote because I’m smarter than that.’  In fact, in many situations, the ways in which individuals’ critical opinions about formal politics were presented in interactions with others were deeply imbued with condescension. Crucially, this condescension is intimately tied with notions of authenticity, the idea being that authentic radicals don’t vote. A deeper look into the scene helps us tease out these authenticity struggles from what looks like simple condescension.

T-minus 9 Months: Dissertation Organizational Rework and Focusing on ‘Scenes.’

9 months.  That’s how long I’m giving myself to have this baby.  I’ve been officially (i.e. via registration) working on this thing since the Fall of 2012, but it feels much longer.  In an effort to induce delivery, I have been easing into an increasingly rigorous writing schedule; I hope it works.

My return to a more structured writing schedule was initiated by a deep revisit and reworking of my dissertation’s structure/arrangement.  I think this produced a more logical  discussion and I think the new outline puts the focus more squarely on the real heart of the research: micro-level constructions of the political in and around social movements.

The problem all along has been how to incorporate discussions of how people reject or distance themselves from a movement (and/or a movement’s politics) within a discussion of the movement itself.  I think a key problem was that I was trying to hard to ‘stick to the movement.’  I had to bend over backwards in order to tell the story of everything that surrounds the movement because I was trying to do it from a discursive position inside the movement.  I found myself going through hoops of justifying the connection of the scene to the movement rather than simply allowing myself to speak to the scene directly.  I began thinking that by carefully filling in the details of the scene, the movement will arise (in some sense) in relief, a sort of negative space drawing of the movement.

My new organizational scheme, as I said above, strives to keep the focus on practices of Rejection and Difference, vis á vis Occupy, within Philly’s radical DIY ‘scene.’  The scene concept strives to capture a layered combination of spatial/physical and sociocultural networks, linked via a combination of radical-leftist political orientations and practices as well as a set of symbolic/cultural markers and practices drawn from the DIY-Punk subculture.  This object of study will be referred to here as Philadelphia’s ‘radical-DIY scene.’

The use of ‘scene’ here draws on Leach and Haunss’ (2009) initial development of this still very new concept.[1]  Broadly, scenes are meant to describe the social and spatial infrastructure that surrounds culturally-oriented movements or social and political struggles more generally. Following the lead of the concept’s creators, the project conceives of ‘scenes’ representing both networks of people who share “a common identity and a common set of subcultural or countercultural beliefs, values, norms, and convictions” as well as the networks of physical spaces where members of that group “are known to congregate” (Leach and Haunss 2009: 259).

Scenes might be thought of as something like Melucci’s ‘submerged networks’ (1985; 1989).  Since the social movement studies field began to give increased attention to movements’ efforts at “politicizing the institutions of civil society,” (i.e. so-called ‘cultural-minded’ movements), numerous scholars have turned their empirical focus to an intermediate sphere, “between ‘private’ pursuits and concerns, on the one side, and institutional, state-sanctioned modes of politics, on the other” (Offe 1985:820).  These spheres have been given various labels: ‘free spaces’ (Polletta 1999; Johnston 2005), ‘submerged networks’ (Melucci 1989), ‘oppositional subcultures’ (Johnston 1991), and more.  However, despite the fact that these spheres have received scholarly attention, as Leach and Haunss demonstrate, we still don’t know much about “their inner dynamics, the circumstances under which they arise, or their effect on social movement development” (Leach and Haunss 2009: 257).

That said, scenes differ from these sorts of concepts in a number of ways.  Take for example probably the most widely used concept mentioned above, Polletta’s ‘free spaces’ (cf. Polletta 1999); these are usually defined functionally (and tautologically) as ‘generative,’ ‘communicative,’ or ‘nurturing’ settings that are necessarily political and tied to movement mobilization.  Alternatively, scenes, as developed by Leach and Haunss are: (1) not necessarily political; (2) not necessarily attached to movements, and when they are, a scene is not reducible to the movement itself or to the organizations within it; and (3) where scenes are connected to a movement, the relationship between the two is not always beneficial for the movement (Leach and Haunss 2009:259).

My development of the concept makes one important modification to Leach and Haunss’ initial development. The authors suggest that, much like earlier ‘free spaces’ concepts, scenes have an assumed autonomy, that is, they are places “where group members are able to interact beyond the reach of oppressor groups” (Leach and Haunss 2009:258).  This project does not accept this assumed autonomy, if only because ‘oppressor groups’ as conceived of by Leach and Haunss seems to refer to somewhat obvious groups like the police with no further clarification on what these ‘groups’ are.  For example, while Philly’s radical-DIY scene may be beyond the reach of or be closed to ‘oppressor groups’ like the police, this is not the same as being beyond the reach of the very socially or culturally rooted systems of oppression these radicals understand themselves to be struggling against, for example the ‘intrusion’ of internalized racism or the replication of hierarchical (particularly gendered) social relations. Indeed, if this project is to remain open to examining how scenes may not always be beneficial for movements, this assumed or ideally conceived autonomy must be open for critical investigation.

There is also an important difference in this project’s approach to ‘scenes’ that relates to the case that Leach and Haunss use in their initial development of the concept – the German autonomous movement.  The authors approach the scene associated with this movement as having developed around the movement, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the scene and the movement.  The case at hand is quite different.  First, Philly’s radical-DIY scene existed prior to the OP emergence, and though it was of course altered by the OP ‘moment,’ the scene’s preexistence sets up the potential for a very different perspective on scene-movement relationship than that seen in the German case.  Second, and relatedly, while there was certainly a strong strain of the radical-DIY scene’s prefigurative political orientation in OP, and in the OM more generally, what is perhaps most interesting about the Occupy case is that this radical political orientation encountered many other political orientations in OP contexts.

Thus, in the interest of answering Leach and Haunss’ call for more insight into ‘negative effects scenes may have on movements,’ it is hoped that these OP encounters will offer insight into issues the German case makes it difficult to see; for example: when and how does a scene (or subscene) develop a political agenda, or, put differently, how and when does a political agenda develop within a scene; how and when does this agenda produce the sort of ‘active’ politics that lead to the initiation of or participation in collective organizing and mobilizing activity; how does this agenda compare and interact with others in the context of a broad-based movement like OP; and, what are the conditions and dynamics of movement ingress and egress for scene members.  Thus, the dimension of ‘encounter’ in scene members’ OP involvement is expected to allow for a more through consideration of scenes’ ‘negative effects’ on movements than the German case offers.

So, where I am at now, and what you will likely see more of on this blog, is efforts to work out the subtle specifications of the universe of Rejection and Difference within the scene that surrounded Occupy.  A pathological analogy might be that I would be looking at the scene’s antibodies and white blood-cells that formed around the edges of Occupy.  While there was plenty of scene participation within Occupy, there was also plenty of non-participation.  And with a scene so intimate tied to not only radical political ideals but also a movement history that is the very ancestor of Occupy, these forms and mechanisms of non-participation can be approached as important sites for gaining a better understanding of micromobilization processes, internal movement dynamics, and perhaps most importantly, these are important places to attempt to gain some deeper analytic perspective on the radical politics espoused in both scene and movement.


I hope this is a relatively painless birthing experience…


[1] To date, there are only two systematic studies of scenes: Hitzler, Bucher, and Niederbacher 2001; Leach and Haunss 2009.

Head Above Water

I feel like I’ve slipped a bit.  The work I’ve been forced to do over the past 12 months descends from the directives of academic-intellectual relationships.  Giver-Reciever, etc.  It’s made me lose my eyes; I feel that it sort of deadened me, that is, it has hampered my ability to assess my subject.  Spending twelve months jerking off a history of half-assed, tautological “epistemological revelations” in a subdiscipline that has been ruled by an endless cadre of white, middle-class révolutionnaire has, at the very least, tuckered me out.

But the past 48 hours have been an Inigo Montoyan-level ice-steam bath routine. I finished this fellowship application that required I submit a 3 page brief of my dissertaiton porject; but I haven’t even written a prpposal to my advisors. So, I’ve been thinking a lot recentlyabout questions.

I have questions; one that came to mind tonight was, “who is the enemny here?”

I was at a srot of open reading event, where authors with varying interests and styles all read work, if only to motivate themselves to create. Throughout the night, there was an everpresent ‘they.’  Sometimes it was named (capitalism; oppression; hipsters; people in brooklyn (literally, b/c he equated all of brklyn with his hipater sister by using it as a signifier for inautheticity), and so on.

One person read a story called “Brunch is not a Brooklyn subculture.”  It began with a story from the author’s childhood, when they ventured from their upstate NY home to visit their grandfather in S. Philly. Then there were 400 words devoted to a romanticized account of what summer in s. philly looks like: stoops, hydrants, music, etc.  The hook is supposed to be the pivot to when the author moved to s. philly as an ‘adult,’ and watched all this ‘publicness’ and ‘community’ disappear because of “hipsters,” ‘the internet,” and “gentrification.”

Here’s the icebath.  The author’s origional, inspiring picture of philly happend when they were under 10; they moved to s. philly less than a year ago.  The reason he came was to follow up on a romaticised meoery of his grandfather and some sort of s. philly public sphere.  But, contrary to the author’s latter suggestion that ‘brunch places that serve expensive beer’ are the key marker of gentrification, destroying community by attracting an internet-using, individualized cliente.  Instead, I would argue that conspicious consumption is superceeded by the power of myth in the engine of gentrification. Myth drew the author to s. philly to “take pictures and lean how to fight,” as the opening lines establshed. Myth of a white working class authenticity has gentrified; myth as hsitory has gentrified.

The community you lament as passed (I am willing to wager) you wuld likely find abhorrent.  There is a reason the mummers are routninely criczied for sporting blackface makeup, they also routinely march down 2 street.  The ‘deep roots’ you speak of were hardened through severe racial and ethinic conflicts and violence. Further, what of ‘internal’ community oppression.

I guess I find it so fascinating when people, or ideal types of people, become the enemy. Here, ‘hipsters who eat brunch’ stands for so much.  But binding it all up like that into a targetabble ‘hipster’ package is to ignore the deep processes at work.  Gentrification is something that happens in large cities, and has for a long time.  The villian is money, not hipsters extactally.  It was a performatively self-concious, white dude who is all enamoured with the idea of working at the wooden shoe as somehow resistance enough in and of itself, standing there telling us how the problem is the gastropubs or whatever that have popped up in the last 4 years or so.

If you’re focused on gastropubs, your too late.

And compare this with the postive stuff about west phillia.  Or was it tounge in cheek.??

No, coulnd’t have been.  All the mirroring of ideal, fictional, and actual…and then trashing some random bar as ‘ruining things.’  IS THIS NOT THE SUBWAY FIGHT ALL OVER AGAIN?

It is when it comes to consuption that it becomes intelligible to this social-psychological ideal type.  An bvious Q is wether shopping and consumption are so impt. here that it really is only then that change is truly felt.??


Blah Blah, Whine Whine.

In an attempt to win some fellowship money, I’ve spent the past two weeks or so working on an abstracted version of my dissertation project; the audience here is juding between proposals based on doability, their personal familiarty with the subject, neoptism, etc.  The problem is I have yet to write a dissertation proposal.  I was encourgared to apply for this thing that supposedly is only meant for people who are one hurdle ahead of me.

This is only a problem because ‘an abstract’ is just a boiled-down, highly condensed version of whatever it is ‘an abstract of;’ it might be a scientific study, an archive of diaries…really anything.


I have been searching for questions.  My approach to this project demands that I remain open to unexpected lines of questioning. No a priori assumptions of relevance or motivation; there is a phenomena (tremors), but I deeply believe we know so little about it that any structuring of the inquiry needs to be carefully justified.


Made in the USA: guns

here’s an idea; why does this not make sense:

guns. fiscal cliff. jobs.

do not touch gun rights, control supply.  ALL weapons sold in USA will be made in USA.

the problem with the way these episodes of public violence have roped in the gun issue is the focus on right to buy.  The problem is not loose rights, but pressure to buy.  There are millions to be made selling guns to americans.  but  ‘guns we dont need’ is different than ‘soap we dont need’ or ‘video games we dont need.’

short circuit the debate.


Gonzo Ethnography Collective

I’ve had this idea floating around for a while.  It began when I accompanied a friend to an Insane Clown Posse concert to do some ethnographic work for a (undergrad) course paper he was writing.  It was an amazing event, with a lot of unexpected experiences and his write-up was great.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link for an event being held nearby: A ‘Sound of Music’ Sing-a-long.  What is interesting is that there is a “for kids” version held earlier in the day and a “18+” one being held later at night.  Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was: what kinds of adults are spending their night (and buying tickets to) an ADULTS ONLY Sound of Music sing-a-long night.  What on earth could this event be like?

I have found myself asking similar questions about other events and phenomena: civil war reenactments, tweed bike rides…the list could be nearly endless.  So, posted on facebook asking if others might be interested in some sort of ethnography collective that might hit these types of events.  It seems like a popular idea!

So, I am proposing forming a gonzo/radical/rouge ethnography collective for precisely this reason.  I think the key requirment is that the collective is fun.  This is all inspired by marveling at ridiculousness and I don’t really have an interest in trying to produce something super serious or all starry-eyed like NYTimes or New Yorker articles.  I want to go out, take notes, film, record and have fun with friends.

That said, I also think this is something people would like to read.  We could set up a website/blog where we could post reports with video and whatnot.  Anything is possible really.

Finally, I also think this might be a cool way to run an ethnography training course.  I could teach people what I know and, like in classes, go out and put it into practice.  It’s a field school…with more booze and smiles.

What do people think?  You can comment below and/or email me and I will get some sort of list together.  We could share upcoming potential field sites and just see if anyone feels like going and hanging out.  Once we get some under our belt, we can start thinking of publishing online, etc.  What do you think the best way to proceed might be?

Perhaps begin with a Google Group:

Occupy Acts Poltically

Occupy Sandy: Why Activists Are Working with NYC Mayor, Police

Yesterday I posted about an article criticizing Occupy for its anti-politics, its inability or refusal to ‘act politically.’  It is hardly uncommon to encounter this sort of argument.  It’s usually pretty vague and feels like an old man just railing at nothing.

The call to ‘engage’ is not sounded in a productive way, this is crucial.  It makes reference to various theoretical problems posed by Occupy’s behavior  but it remains high above the ground.  The call the ‘engage’ is never born out into practical advice, into a discussion of what ‘engagement’ entails, how it might be navigated, and what might arise unexpectedly. In short, it is not knowledge that is contracted to or meant to aid those it criticizes.  The grit of what ‘acting politically’ means, day to day, decision to decision  scenario by scenario is not even relevant to these arguments.

Well, the above article was published today in Time: “Occupy Sandy: Why Activists Are Working with NYC Mayor, Police.”

The article describes how Occupy activists’ response to Sandy has been incredibly important both for those they’ve helped, but for popular understandings of Occupy as well.  Because it’s in Time, it does not move to locate these actions within Occupy’s story, but mostly just covers the situation, which is important for Time’s audience who are not likely to have a detailed understanding of Occupy’s biography beyond the mainstream news coverage in 2011.

There are a lot of threads here, and I am trying to get better about writing here on WOP more causally  so I am not going to try to lay them all out in full now.  Rather, because this blog is as much for me as any audience, the following should suffice:

-A ‘moment in the spotlight’ for Mutual Aid, both because of the situation and the way in which Occupy has acted and promoted the phrase

-An example of Occupy almost transcending politics, coming back into it only when officials ‘catch up’

-More later, laundry now.

-Suggestions? Ideas? Write me!



Occupy Anti-Politics | Jacobin

The link above is to an article in Jacobin Magazine titled ‘Occupy’s Anti-Politics.’  In it, author Shawn Gude attempts to connect that apparent ‘failure’ of the Occupy movement with Occupy activists’ aversion to what he calls “acting politically,” arguing:

[C]ommunity is important. Occupiers were wrong, however, when they viewed it as a resounding step towards a more egalitarian, just society.

Politically, Occupy accomplished little because we were often too wary of acting politically, of making demands on the political system, of acknowledging conflict and structuring our movement accordingly. Many in the movement thought structure carried the patina of the establishment, that demand making would simply serve to legitimize the malevolent state. So we got an amorphous, highly decentralized movement that, after a miraculous flourish in its embryonic stages, tapered off.

…Even for those who find the state of American politics repulsive (and I, emphatically, do) the principle, the idea, of politics and the democratic process must be defended. Jaundiced resignation redounds to the benefit of the Right. They relish anti-political cynicism. They oppose concerted collective action, so they harness the sentiment to subvert politics itself. They adopt a sort of aloof, cooler-than-thou detachment from the political arena, a pernicious posture that ineluctably elevates apathy and inaction to the status of beau ideal.

…Acting politically means confronting power, not side-stepping it. It means reshaping existing institutions, not just building alternative ones. It means directly and indirectly engaging the state, not cocooning oneself from it.

First, there is the irony of an article supporting engagement with established political institutions being published in an magazine called Jacobin, which prides itself on being “hostile to liberal accomodationalism.”  But let’s not get into petty shit.

There is something larger that this article helps to highlight.  Gude is responding, and largely mimicking  an Thomas Frank article that similarly bemoans Occupy’s supposed lack of ‘acting politically;’ he argues that where most (especially academic) coverage asks what made Occupy so successful  we should instead ask:

Why did this effort fail? How did OWS blow all the promise of its early days? Why do even the most popular efforts of the Left come to be mired in a gluey swamp of academic talk and pointless antihierarchical posturing?

What I find interesting about this position, which is equally common as the celebratory accounts, is that it elevates and reifies ‘acting politically’ in the same way that they claim Occupiers have ‘fetishized feelings.’  This argument criticizes Occupy’s (and other/previous movements’) rhetorical/ideological celebration of prefigurative politics, of community building through mutual aid, of ‘being the change you want to see.’  In doing so, authors who follow this line of argument often just come off sounding grumpy.

It’s important to make clear that the defense of ‘acting politically  is often  pretty vague   It focuses on Occupy’s appranat lack of impact as evidence that it ‘needed to do more.’  What ‘doing more’ by ‘acting politically   means is  rarely specified; usually it signifies a collection of ideas and practices that say more about the author than any essential qualities of ‘democracy’ or ideal tactical choices. ,’

In fact it usually just seems to mean voting, or supporting people to vote for. It signifies a resigned politics of the old Left..literally old.  The tendency to view the world in a way that valorizes ones historical experience: ‘the greatest generation ‘the radical 60s and 70s.’  But the source of Occupy’s ‘antipolitics’ is born out in the history of movement of the 60s/70s: a path of institutionalization that raises important questions about ‘acting politically,’ questions that cannot be addressed with general talk like:

Even for those who find the state of American politics repulsive (and I, emphatically, do) the principle, the idea, of politics and the democratic process must be defended.

What does this mean?  What is detestable and what must be defended?  I might even argue that part of Occupy’s story is a frustration with this conundrum: deadlock and powerlessness.

Instead he says that what prefiguration and ‘community’ avoid is the brave recognition of conflict and compromise that ‘acting politically entails.’  Yet, in my experience, those Occupiers who most avoided conflict were those pushing for engagement with institutional politics, and they started leaving early.  As soon as things ot messy, out came the calls to “get back to work” and move on to a campaign.

But is this not politics?  What is political?  this is not philosophical bullshit im asking. what do you mean?

And here is a crucial issue.  And it pivots.

We can also ask of community/prefiguration: aren’t communities embedded in a wide and diverse set of social contexts, in which electoral, party, institutionalized poltics figure heavily?

To the Pennsylvanians: if corbett could have not been elected, perhaps through organizing around voting or if strategic voting weren’t so distasteful to white male anarchos, there might have been fewer fracking permits, fewer ruined watersheds?


Anyway, the Jacobin stiff: What is even stranger about this whole (and again common) argument is the implicit suggestion that celebration, prefiguration, and community are not involved in the creation of a more egalitarian society.  I am not arguing for these ideas here, but simply against the factual basis on which tthis line rests, and the fact that it seems to presume to know everything.

Indeed and  besides, Jacobin’s own intro about obama signs is precisely the point.  movements are not controllled. it may be appropriateion, but there are more people involved in social change than activists and their critics.