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Session at the AAA Annual Meeting
San Francisco, November 14-18, 2012

The Global Uprisings of 2011 and the Anthropology of Direct Democracy

Critical theorists, including Slavoj Zizek (2011), Judith Butler (2011), and Michael Hardt and Toni Negri (2011), have framed the protest movements of 2011 as a response to a fundamental crisis of representative politics. The response—from Northern Africa, through Southern Europe to North America—has, in many cases, centered on a radicalization of democracy, especially an embrace of direct democracy. Our knowledge of these directly democratic experiments remains, however, inchoate. Little description and analysis is available on the specific forms of directly democratic practice enacted in settings as distinct as the Casbah in Tunis, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Syntagma Square in Athens, Puerto del sol in Madrid, Tel Aviv’s tent city, the Wisconsin statehouse as well as the hundreds of encampments associated with the Occupy Movement.

The need for ethnographic accounts of direct democracy is especially urgent because many movements have refused official representatives of their practices and because democracy has been extended beyond formal institutions into new spheres of life. By inviting initial ethnographic accounts of direct democracy, this panel hopes to contribute to the growing anthropology of democracy (Appadurai 2001, 2007; Brown 2006; Paley 2002, 2008; Shore 2000). The focus on direct democracy, which has been relatively neglected within anthropology, responds to David Nugent’s (2002, 2008) call for an unsettling of “normative democracy”—i.e. the dominance of a certain liberal variant of democracy—through a description of “alternative democracies,” especially those unique conceptions of democracy emerging among subaltern movements, groups, and peoples that allow us to think outside dominant assumptions. Proposed papers can address any of the movements that emerged in the wake of the 2011 uprisings around the globe, including but not restricted to the Occupy Movements or other recent struggles that have adopted directly democratic forms and practices. Please feel to contact me with any questions.


Please send a title and abstract of no more than 250 words to Maple Razsa by March 10, 2012.


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