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Occupying London: post-crash resistance and the foreclosure of possibility

If the financial crisis was an opportunity to challenge and replace free market (neoliberal) capitalism; then why has nothing radically changed?

It seemed to me that we might find answers to this question by studying those movements which sought to actually bring change about in the post-crash moment and what foreclosures they faced in resisting the reassertion of neoliberalism. As such, over three summers (2012, 2013, 2014) I interviewed and observed Occupy London, learning about the movement and discussing with activists involved what challenges and problems they faced in attempting to resist the continuation of this system after the crash. Indeed, this seemed particularly important to study in a situation where that ideology which caused the crisis in the first place, appeared to be not only continuing ‘by default’ and presenting itself as the only ‘sensible’ way forwards, but also seemed to be dominating society as a set of normative cultural values.

I begin by arguing that the tactic of occupation and the collective identity of ‘we are the 99%’ carried radical potential, insofar as they both indicated an intention to present an organised and symbolically consistent appearance, which aimed to qualitatively stretch their grievances to others. Against that which designated the movement as ‘nothing to see here’ and as something which should simply ‘move along’; occupation also gave an opportunity to make the ‘nonsense’ idea (that there could be an alternative) appear against its designation as nonsense.

However, it is my contention that any possibilities of resistance and change which occupation and ‘we are the 99%’ suggested, were unable to be capitalised upon by the Occupy movement in London. Firstly, I point to pragmatic issues of pervasive individualism and libertarianism within the movement, which created disorganisation, symbolic inconsistency and a limitation of their ability to extend beyond the movement itself. Furthermore, I also argue against ideas that Occupy was somehow able to create a structureless, open and prefigurative performance of an alternative society which was outside and untainted by wider social structures, instead demonstrating that this created a tendency to overlook inequalities that persisted within the movement.

Secondly and beyond these pragmatic issues, however, I also argue that such presuppositions of individualism, libertarianism and prefiguration – as well as the pursuit of authenticity and cynical constructions of power through conspiracy theory – indicated a common framework shared by Occupy London and that which it was attempting to resist. In other words, insofar as these assumptions and givens distributed both the activist’s resistance and the post-crash reassertion of neoliberalism, I argue that Occupy unintentionally and counter-intuitively extended the normativity and power of that which it was attempting to refigure and challenge, whilst paradoxically playing into the marginalisation of its own appearance.

Rather than a scientific description, or a short sharp characterisation of post-crash resistance (which might either cynically dismiss such movements or romanticise them); the aim of my thesis was instead to trace the foreclosures and the unrealised potentialities of the movement over a period of time, allowing activists to be critical and reflexive through patient analysis.

Keywords:
Occupy London; Resistance; Power; Financial Crisis; Neoliberalism; Distribution of the Sensible; Post-politics; Foreclosure of Possibility; Genealogical Politics

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