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This is part of my recent idea to publish email conversations on my blog (with permission) as an effort in public sociology / social theory. Following my recent paper at York’s PG Conference ‘The Contemporary Other’ I had the following exchange with Gurminder Bhambra which encouraged me to clarify some parts of my argument.

Dear Sam,
I really enjoyed your presentation and am sorry that I had to leave, due to the prior commitment in London, before the questions.
To present the history of Occupy starting with New York and Adbusters misses the way in which they were themselves inspired by the indignados and other protest movements around the world. If we took these other movements seriously (many of them starting in the global south) how would this shift (or not) your analysis)?
Also, I couldn’t work out if you were in favour of Occupy, or hostile to it! Is Occupy itself responsible for the creation of passivity that you are critiquing?
And I am also interested in what the broader questions are that this project is located in.
Hope you don’t mind me writing – I enjoyed the presentation and wanted to ask the questions that it provoked. 
Best wishes,
Gurminder

 

Hi Gurminder,
Thanks so much for your email. I really enjoyed your talk too and I was keen to find out what you thought of my argument.

To present the history of Occupy starting with New York and Adbusters misses the way in which they were themselves inspired by the indignados and other protest movements around the world. If we took these other movements seriously (many of them starting in the global south) how would this shift (or not) your analysis)?

By starting in this way, it certainly sounded like I reduce the movement to Adbusters. But I definitely agree with you that there was much more to it than simply an advert in a magazine and perhaps I was being a little facetious. What it does indicate though is the kind of rebellious consumption which is out there, in that readers (consumers) of Adbusters consume its message and acted upon it. The other thing I think your question points towards is the geo-centricity of my account. Occupy is definitely not one single movement and is typical of the decentralisation in contemporary NSMs therefore it took on different characteristics in different locales (not only between cultures but even between camps in the same city). This is a difficult epistemological issue to overcome in research, and also when considering its link to other movements. But I think that really when it comes down to it, Occupy was/is perhaps more a reaction to the resentment which was/is widespread in society rather than ’caused’ or inspired by anything particular. Although this resentment was surely perpetuated by their consumption of media coverage from Indignados, Arab Spring etc.

Also, I couldn’t work out if you were in favour of Occupy, or hostile to it! Is Occupy itself responsible for the creation of passivity that you are critiquing?

A lot of the questions I received at the end were asking why I was being so dismissive of Occupy and also the use of social media as a tool. But rather than this being my intention, it was more an effect of only having ten minutes to speak! I think the Occupy movement was incredible and unprecedented which is why I am so fascinated in its role in resistance. For me, its biggest success was putting the word ‘capitalism’ back into discourse (rather than previously where it was referred to in more neutral terms such as ‘the economy’). However, what I am trying to do with my research is meet with the movement critically to suggest why it was unable to bring about any socio-economic change and therefore why it was unable to effectively resist the system. This is in contrast to a kind of romanticising of the movement by a few theorists on the left (including Zizek who is one of my favourites).

And I am also interested in what the broader questions are that this project is located in.

I’m only at the beginning of my PhD at the moment, but I am interested in the nature of resistance in a society in which there is a consensus around the way that things are said and done etc… If capitalism occupies the ‘horizon of the thinkable’ then how is a true resistive challenge possible. I think the answer is in social movements, and therefore I am definitely for Occupy but I think it could have gone further. I think this is quite similar to what you had to say on politics at the conference, which reminded me of some of the arguments that I am currently engaging with in terms of post-politics (Zizek) and consensus/dissensus or politics proper/police distribution of the sensible (Ranciere).

Thank you for emailing me and I look forward to reading your response.
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