Skip to content

Toggle service links

You are here

  1. Home
  2. Workshops
  3. London workshop
  4. Report from the London Workshop

Report from the London Workshop

Framing Financial Crisis and Protest: Pressures on Cultural Identity and Citizenship

Workshop at the Open University, Camden Town, London, 30 July – 1 August 2015
Session 1 (summary by Karim Murji)

  • Question 1: What are the key considerations in communicating the rationale of the financial crisis for public understanding?
  • Question 2: What social and political factors encourage or discourage a public response to the financial crisis?

Terrence McDonagh   [National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland] “Interact Global, Sink Local: A Euro-example of Scale in the Global Neoliberal Crisis”

Terrence McDonagh’s presentation argued that the financial crisis should be seen as a crisis of global neo-liberalism, that global neo-liberalism represented the latest stage of capitalism, and that crises are now nested in a global and not a national context.

The main questions about the presentation centred on whether the unemployment crisis in Ireland was really a debt crisis and the extent to which people in Ireland viewed this as an Irish issue or a crisis in the Eurozone.  Other questions focussed on the definition of neo-liberalism and the suggestion that rather than being understood in terms of deregulation and market ideology it should be seen as a changing form of social reproduction; and as a changing struggle between labour and the state over social reproduction. The response argued that the crisis is not one of demand but unemployment; the reconstruction of the state under the crisis of global neo-liberalism was of a different kind to the Keynesian and monetarist responses to previous crises. He agreed that there was a need to drill down to specify the meaning of neo-liberalism as distinct from globalisation and financialisation.

Ruth Pearson [Leeds University, UK] “Transcending the impact of the financial crisis in the United Kingdom: towards plan F -- a feminist economic strategy” (with Diane Elson)

Ruth Pearson’s presentation outlined the ways in which feminist economics is distinct from Keynesianism because it stresses relations of care as well as labour, and social reproduction as well as production.  ‘Plan F’ is the plan of the women’s budget group []. Its main challenges were to map an alternative and the need to communicate its ideas to the public.  A travelling exhibition [] provided an example of other ways of communicating the ideas of feminist economics.

Questions focused on the example of the Feminist initiative party in Sweden, the economic crisis as an undermining of public services which are less carbon intensive than manufacturing and so less harmful to the environment, and the use of alternative definitions of GDP.  A question was also posed if the contrast between Keynesian and feminist economies made the latter seem like an issue for women only?   In response, Ruth Pearson mentioned the setting up of the Women’s Equality party in the UK, and that there are long standing debates about ways of measuring GDP in a more inclusive way. She argued that feminist economics is an international movement that goes beyond women and draws into question the division between the public and the private.

Tao Papaioannou and Mike Hajimichael [Nicosia University, Cyprus] “Paradise Lost: Media Representation and the 2013 Financial and Political Crises in Cyprus”

Tao Papaioannou and Mike Hajimichael’s presentation questioned the ways in which the mainstream media represent the politics of economic conflict. Instead of focusing on the term ‘crisis’, their approach looks to provide a comparative analysis of the media based on cross time/media/contexts.  So media studies needs to go beyond events to look at protests in terms of a ‘life course’ that included all stages from formation/genesis to emergence as well as outcome.  The different meanings of crisis for different people is also an important aspect to draw out.

Questions and comments raised issues about the relationship between social movements and social media and the translation of debate from social media to the people being mobilised.  In response the speakers argued the need to draw on collective action as well as connective action frames. The speed and scale of mobilisations in social media suggest that such framing is not simply an alternative to the mass media; collective identities formed in social media appear weak.  The key question is how to expand on connective action?

Lisa McKenzie [London School of Economics, UK] “How do we activate sociologists as well as the electorate?”

Lisa McKenzie’s presentation provided a biographical account of her route into the academy, the study of working class lives, and the adequacy or not of sociological research in understand the lives of poor people and contributing to a fightback against austerity in Britain.  She also looked at campaigns against the evacuation of social housing in London.

Questions and comments raised points about the similarities in Sweden around the treatment of migrants; related points were made about ways of building class solidarity and the meaning of the term working class, its relationship to poverty, and the experience of crisis for middle class Londoners’ also.  Other points made were about how specific the analysis was to the current period and the immersive nature of the work the paper is based on.  Lisa McKenzie argued that many communities faced similar problems in London and that housing is a particular pinch point.  Working class people’s campaigns have reclaimed empty buildings and made the case for land and housing as a public good.  In the process various campaigns – Reclaim Brixton/Hackney – were active against gentrification in those areas.  She drew on a Bourdieusian understanding of class as entailing economic, social and cultural capital.

Helen Yanacopulos [Open University UK] “European Solidarity in Crisis”

Helen Yanacopulos’ presentation argued that from a longer and international development perspective the current crisis looks similar to the structural adjustment policies applied to developing countries in previous decades.  She posed three questions: how to build solidarity around social justice campaigns?  Can anti-austerity campaigns lead into other social movements? And how to communicate public understanding around these issues?  Solidarity in EU policy documents is discussed in terms of security but a social understanding is needed in its place.

Questions and comments focussed on the changing nature of the EU and the ways in which nation-states further narrow nationalisms; the problem of methodological nationalism and the need to take account of a Global South context that goes beyond Europe.  A related point made was that in some countries, like Spain, the issues are regional and not just national.  Other questions asked about the ways in which the Jubilee 2000 campaign reframed the issue as one of debt cancellation;  and campaigns as a means of the strategic re-framing of social issues in terms of collective identities and action.  Whether the crisis should be viewed as a deliberate strategy was a further point made, as was the one about the nature of the Europe in a unipolar world and the extent to which the EU can be changed.  In response Helen Yanacopulos said that reframing is not just rhetorical but in the case of debt cancellation other countries outside the G8 were drawn into the campaign.  She pointed out that current discussions were internally focussed on Europe and the EU rather than the BRICs and that there was a problem for people on the left about their attitude towards the EU and in the UK referendum in 2017.

In conclusion the session chair, Suman Gupta, said three key issues for further debate had come out from this session:

  1. The homogenising role of nation-states and nationalisms and the neglect of the heterogeneity of Europe and trans-national identities of various people in Europe.
  2. Neo-liberalism as a meaningful but also difficult to pin down category.  Its role in promoting economic deregulation as well as its reduction of ‘publicness’.
  3. The role of the academy in analysing and responding to the crisis.

Session 2 (summary by Milena Katsarska)
Theme: Discourses of Immigration and the Far Right

In broad strokes, this session engaged multiple perspectives with regard to the producers and consumers of discourses on migration that often capitalize on slipping categories of migrant workers/immigrants/refugees/etc. vis-à-vis racialized, non-native, religious etc. “others” in the context. The presentations as well as the subsequent comments relied on and were elaborated with regard to specific geopolitical contexts (Scotland, Greece, Turkey, Germany, etc.), as well as in relation to pertinent questions of the European “present”.

Satnam Virdee [Glasgow University, Scotland UK] “The Ongoing Project of Re-Racializing Britain” / “Racism, nationalism and the emergent crisis of the British state: Some thoughts on Scotland”

Satnam Virdee addressed the issue of re-racializing Britain by analysing the trajectory of SNP support consolidation in Scotland, especially in view of the last UK elections but also against the socio-political historical background of the latter half of the 20th century in Britain. Usefully recalling Stuart Hall, Virdee discussed how “modality in which class is lived” is nowadays materialized through racialized nationalism that effectively works both ways, i.e. as reinforced by elites (economic, political, including media, etc.) and as appropriated and supported by the working class. Racism in this sense was viewed as constitutive of the crisis, not as an unfortunate consequence of the financial crisis.

Les Levidow [Open University, UK] “UK securitisation targeting ‘suspect communities’”

Les Levidow discussed UK securitisation through targeting “suspect communities” by following the model of deploying security framework which generates a threat/defence sequence and helps justify measures which in turn reinforce the delineation of threat. In this Levidow focused on cases studies such as Kurdish protests, as well as cases of targeting Somalis in the UK. Speaking from the perspective of an activist engaged in the Campaign against Criminalizing Communities (CAMPACC), the speaker posed critical questions around the issue of how the deployment of terrorist frameworks prevents solidarity and support across borders, which has detrimental consequences to wide-ranging alliances in cross-border support for anti-establishment protests. Team members from Greece found some of the issues raised resonant with their context, especially with regard to criminalization of immigrants in Greece and, more widely, with the issue of police militarization across different geopolitical contexts. The subsequent discussion also revealingly critiqued the partition between migrant/refugee/asylum seeker as a government partition so as to produce “objects” of suspicion. Along such lines it is deemed crucial to problematize this partition and the mechanisms generating it and address the fuzziness of the categories themselves.

Nicholas de Genova [King’s College London, UK] “In the Land of the Setting Sun: Reflections on ‘Islamization’ and ‘Patriotic Europeanism’”

The presentation offered by Nicholas de Genova focused on the specific social and political context of Germany with a view to illuminating what factors charter the “acceptable” answers to the “European question” (i.e. What is European? Who is European?), and critique the emergent notion of “European patriotism” in its complex and multifaceted inflections. Positing the notion of “European patriotism” provoked a number of questions with regard to historic “simple nationalism”, xenophobia, as well as its relation to the financial and economic crisis in the present, whereby a sharper distinction appeared with regard to, for instance, anti-Muslim racism being generically in the direction of xenophobia, while the current promotion of the identity of the native across Europe can be thought of along the lines of “nativism” (applied with modifications from the context of the USA in the 19th century, where it appeared to make a claim and displace Native Americans from the position of having the right to speak of/own/claim the land). Adopting such a lens effectively reinvigorates the dynamics of the concept of “European patriotism” in relation to discourses of immigration within the EU and beyond (from non-European contexts).

Giorgos Tsimouris [Panteion University Athens, Greece] “From Mainstream to Extreme: Casino Capitalism, Fascism and the Re-bordering of Immigration in Greece”

Giorgos Tsimouris’ presentation usefully elucidated some of the issues that had emerged in the session up to that point with a view to the “trajectory of success” and the path to power followed by Golden Dawn in Greece (from 0.4-1% in November 2011 election to 7% of electorate votes in June 2012). The case study of Golden Dawn as a political formation resonated with some of the observations with regard to both top-down and bottom-up workings of racialized nationalism (as evidenced in Satnam Virdee’s presentation), yet in a different geopolitical context. The analysis of Golden Dawn illuminated key points of capitalization on anti-immigrant sentiment and action in times of crisis and austerity against a “deeper” socio-historical background of the durable and deep structures of Greek nationalism. This presentation added a new perspective on border and border crossing in unpacking Golden Dawn’s rhetoric and actions for reactivating inner borders within a given society (i.e. along the lines of “the fear of the Other living among us”). In the discussion that followed parallels were drawn with other populist and nationalist movements/parties, not least with ELAM (the National Popular Front) in Cyprus.

In the concluding exchanges for this session there emerged the cycle in which economic pressure (where the current crisis is located) generates/spurs migration which in turn creates “grades” of populations to categorize (by state and supra-state governing bodies) and these are products of and produce themselves in turn discourses that resonate both with the socio-political past and the socio-political imaginings of specific sending and receiving contexts.

Session 3 (summary by Helen Yanacopulos)
Theme: Citizenship and Borders

Theodoros A Spyros, “Cultural Capital, Cosmopolitan Identities and International Division of Labor in Crisis-ridden Greece”

The presentation examined the role of education as a form of social mobility in Greece.  In post-war Greece, the ‘Greek dream’ (the desire for social success and economic prosperity and overstated wealth) was evident.  Prior to the financial and economic crisis, in post civil war Greece, the state was the largest employer.  After the financial crisis, there has been a reduction of students registered in private education; however, despite the crisis, many families still send their children to private school – even if it is unaffordable for them.  The paper questions why.  One reason offered is that instead of preparing their children for state jobs, they are now sending their children through private education in order to set them up for internationally focused careers.  These schools give them social and networking skills, foreign languages, and access to 21st century technology.  The paper concludes that because of the deterioration of public sector salaries, private education is much less for public sector jobs, and more for the adoption of neo-liberal European prospects and the new international migrating labour. There was a discussion around a number of issues within the Greek context.  One such issue was around elite schools are not necessarily taking the best students but those who can pay.  Also, state schools are lacking teachers because of government cutbacks.  Education is highly valued in Greece (as a source of social mobility) and there is a high percentage of highly educated people in Greece.  Going to private school was and is an economic status symbol; additionally, there are no refugees in private schools that ‘dilute’ Greek children’s education.  A comment was made about Cyprus - the state schools are so bad and racist, that going private is a progressive response.

Ioannis Balampanidis (and Katerina Lamprinou) “The SYRIZA way to power (and back again?): Framing crisis, national identity and protest”

This paper challenges the conventional wisdom that the rise of the Syriza party was a result of a “memorandum / anti-memorandum” divide.  While the paper does not dispute the importance of austerity in this polarized view, the authors emphasise that there were other complex and subtle dynamics involved, such as the framing of the crisis which involved the somewhat opposing frames of social mobilization around anti austerity, and well as the Greek/European identity.  Thus, Syriza promoted a narrative of the persecution of European people, not just Greece thus leading the party to frame this as a European crisis.   Questions asked inspired a discussion around how Syriza framed the issues - Syriza never spoke about the problems inside of Greece before being elected and only spoke about them after getting to power.  There are factions within Syriza on the left of party that cannot see how the EU can be transformed – this is a divisive issue.  During the referendum, while over 60% voted NO (OXI), simultaneously 71% didn’t want to leave euro, making it difficult for the Greek Syriza government to have a plan B.

Miguel Vicente-Mariño, “Regional, National and International spheres in the self-proclaimed new Spanish political parties”

The presentation explored the ways that Spanish political parties are forced to rethink their positions regarding local, regional and national issues.  Specifically, the paper focused on the two new actors claiming a central position in Spanish politics.  The main topics within the Spanish agenda that were highlighted were: the relationship between Spain and Catalonia; the axes between transparency and corruption; and, the approach to the economic crisis. In the 2011 election, 80% of ballots were received by the two main political parties, Partido Popular (PP) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE).  The results of 24 May 2015 elections returned a much more fragmented scenario with new parties stepping into the main scene with a partially unexpected impetus. While the two main parties are still in the lead, their support figures are changing in favour of Podemos and Theotharanos.  One issue than any party needs to address is that Spain is a multi-national state – and the distance between Barcelona and Madrid has been escalating since 2011.  There is a growing mistrust in the political sphere, which is where the new parties are gaining support.  For the general elections at the end of 2015, Podemos have said that they would do whatever it takes to get into power – but questions arise around whether pragmatic approaches have replaced ideological ones.  A discussion followed around the role of academics in both Spanish and Greek politics – i.e. the role of the University of Essex.  Was this a strength or a weakness?  For example, the top five people in Podemos are all academics coming from the same academic department.  There was also a discussion between what is the social movement and what is the political party – i.e. 15 May is not Podemos – it is much bigger than that.  Additionally, there was a further discussion around how there is frequently a conflation between ‘Europe’ and the ‘Euro’ - yet they are not the same thing.

John Seed, “UKIP and the reserve army of Labour”

The paper explores the 12% vote of UKIP in the last UK election and examined why the party appealed.  The paper also examined the Marxist response, which generated questions about labour markets, about the restructuring of the working class in Britain since the 1980s and about changing relations between nation and class.  Support for UKIP is not like that for other parties – it is a protest vote.  Marx’s reserve army of labour - those people who are affected by immigration are unskilled workers – those voting UKIP.  Questions led to a discussion around immigration and the global reserve army of labour.  But there is a sociological global and a political national and UKIP offers them a national answer.  There continued a discussion / critique of Brass’ Eurosentric Marxism.  The migrant worker does not belong to the working class in discourses and there is a need to stretch the concept of class – at least within Britain.  Although many sneering at the UKIP voter, we need to come to terms with why they are voting this way – is it that they have been disserted by all of the political parties and UKIP speaks to them?

Lee Monaghan, Martin Power, Micheal O’Flynn, “Scapegoating During a Time of Crisis: A Critique of Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland”

The presentation revolved around the published paper, focusing on scapegoating in post-crash Ireland following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Drawing from group conflict theory and framing analysis as part of a broader critical realist take on society, we consider how blame has been placed on myriad targets, ranging from a collective ‘we who went a bit mad with borrowing’ to more specific groups such as public sector workers, the unemployed, single mothers and immigrants.  The concept of scapegoating is about the transfer of blame and in Ireland, it has served a dual purpose – to deflect blame from government and to rationalise attacks on those that it has decided must bear the costs (generally the most vulnerable in society).  Austerity and scapegoating are two sides to the same coin, and while the paper illustrated how this take place within a national context, whole countries are also being scapegoated (such as the PIIGS).  A discussion followed around scapegoating and how scapegoating is a way of sweeping things under the carpet. Also, who is to blame for the crisis – do we blame deregulation? Individual bankers?  Scapegoating is an intercultural term - you execute an animal outside of the community.  To fully understand the process, we must examine power relations and who scapegoats whom under what conditions. Examples such as Greece (whole country scapegoated – “it was a collective sin”) and immigrants were discussed.  There were also comments exploring journalist’s perspective of reporting and how a crisis is explained in a1 ½ minute news slot.  We as academics need to think about what kind of narratives can we produce but we also need to be aware of the professional journalist structures.

Session 4 (summary by Tao Papaioannou)
Theme: Geographies of Crisis

Susan Steed [Brixton Pound] “Money and Geography”

Susan Steed talked about her experiences of co-founding the Brixton Pound. The Brixton Pound is a local currency, and the primary goal of the Brixton Pound was to connect money to a place.  Steel showed six images including the first Issue Brixton Pound, the second Issue Brixton Pound, a British £20 note, some 1935 coins, a British penny minted in 1903 and a photography of donations.  These images were used to prompt discussions on the following themes:

  • where the image comes from within the understanding of the geography of banking by Marc Brakken
  • where the power of the Brixton Pound comes from as it aims to facilitate transactions between small businesses
  • if anyone supports the currency and the reasons
  • if the audiences actually consider the Brixton Pound as currency

Following the presentation, a discussion took place, centering around the business functionalities of the Brixton Pound which facilitate local businesses owners to pay their taxes electronically and promote trade for independent businesses, offering a new institutional dimension of local currency of stimulating local demands. Furthermore, a point was raised about circulating political symbolism through local currency. Political statements make their way into the public sphere through the Brixton Pound, making people more aware of the associated history and the politics of money.                                                                                     

Meglena Zlatkova [Plovdiv University, Bulgaria] “The City and the Protest – mapping the public space in Bulgarian cities (The cases of Sofia and Plovdiv 2013)”

Using the protests in Sofia and Plovdiv in 2013 as case studies, this paper addressed the following questions: How the urban space as an embodiment of politics is used, transformed and re-evaluated by the 2013 protests in Bulgarian cities and towns? How Sofia as a stage and a stake of expression of different political/civic ideas corresponds/opposes to the other cities and towns in Bulgaria? And how the ‘riot city’ re-shapes the ‘city of the peoples’ everyday life as a way of inhabiting and protesting?

To approach these questions, this study mapped the protests as activities in an active, negotiable, and shared urban space and discusses the juxtaposition of the public space and the transformation of the spaces of everyday life, consumption and leisure into an extraordinary protest event, expressing collective and/or individual civic positions. The physical and symbolic places of protests are the urban centers. The places of the crisis experience are situated mostly in the urban periphery. In terms of a specific geography of the crisis, the personal and the individual experiences of protests are expressed by visible physical (bodily) flows and movements in the towns and cities as escaping from the routines of the everyday life and participating in a ‘new’ time and spaces in one and the same urban network.

Discussion of the presentation raised the following questions: how do the weak ties observed among the protesters appropriate the functions of the city’s public space as the spacious center of Sophia makes it difficult for the protestors to occupy? How do the protestors use the public space as dramaturgical tool and what media coverage was received? As video clips were uploaded by protestors to promote their agendas, questions were asked about how online protest interfaced with offline participation as well as the political background of the protests.

Session 5a (summary by Tao Papaioannou)
Theme: Public Protests: Riots, Marches, Demonstrations, Occupations

Sophie Nield  [Royal Holloway London, UK]  “Tahrir Square, EC4M: the Occupy movement and the dramaturgy of public order”

The Occupy movement is generally acknowledged to have begun in September 2011, in response to a suggestion from the Canadian activist network Adbusters that Wall Street be occupied. The movement was also inspired by the sit-ins and popular occupations which had taken place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere during the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, and those staged by the 'Indignados' of Madrid the same year.

This study unpacks both the symbolic and material practices of conventional protest by proposing that they run the risk of recuperation into dominant modes of political expression.  To an extent, Occupy made a space for a new kind of reading of political protest, one based in ideas of a doubled, theatrical appearance, and a dramaturgy of public order. It pointed to a new set of questions for the ways in which we read symbolic political work. The question is no longer simply one of order versus disorder or political versus non-political.  A re-aligned grammar of public protest may reveal much about regimes of political appearance: about presence, representation and visuality; about how to be invisible in plain sight; about which bodies signify, how, and when, and, finally, about the condition of political subjecthood itself in relation to efficacy.

A central argument made in the discussion rests on the productively difference between performance and theatrical appearance. Sophie explained that the formal refers to how an act manifests where the latter is about an act being seen to be done such as the law needs to be seen to be carried out, accentuating aspects of the political sphere.  So political appearance in the public sphere functions like theatrical appearance deliberately articulated in relation to the reading of the politics of protests, managing dramaturgy without demeaning it as just theatre. It is about representation of power and political claims, especially when protests are constrained into pre-scripted, dominant modes of expressions, dictated by the state.

Another question was also asked about protests which are allowed to perform in certain ways are considered acceptable within political terms but at the same time, on-the-stage protests. The political subjectivehood of occupying is to refuse to play such politics, asserting the political role of protests in public life.

Mike Hajimichael [Nicosia University, Cyprus] “Resistance through Souvla and Kremala – performative acts and actions in a protest in Cyprus 2013”

By exploring a series of protests that used alternative forms of expression to articulate their demands, this study challenges, at least partially, the notion that Cypriots did not protest to the bailout of March 2013. The performative quality of these protests is deeply seeped in vernacular culture and expression. Witnessing the construction and re-appearance of the ‘kremala’ as a form of protest carries a heavy kind of emotion historically which reflects a consciousness of now, as expressed by a small group of people. Their innovative use of satire as a vehicle for expressing that consciousness is interlinked with the re-enactment of hanging as a performative symbolic form of action.  The ‘souvla’ is a much more common and ritualistic sight in Cyprus. It is prevalent in many aspects of cultural and social life.  This is what Harris Hadjipavlou used to attract the ‘masses’, it’s the populist slant of the protestors, a tactic to bringing people on the street  into a series of parodies of protest, through satirical engagement with the police present.

The number of likes and shares, the comments on Facebook walls, and discussions in public places, all contributed to a sense of people engaging in an alternative, autonomous and grass roots way.  The use of media in this context is important for its alternativeness and multi-platform techniques. What was once called ‘new media’ has now become a more dominant convention that people have more creative control over, in terms of advancing a cause or expressing indignation.

The following questions were asked at the end of the presentation: what were the criteria for selecting the protest as a case study? How the intentions of the protestors were perceived by the public? How social media as an online space for performance relate to other protests in Cyprus? Mike explained that the chosen protest was unique, mainly for its performative qualities albeit public perceptions of the performative symbolism embedded in the protests were beyond the scope of the study and perhaps difficult to assess systematically. In this case study, social media were used by the protestors to counter the lack of coverage by mainstream news media. This further raised the significance of how mainstream media and social media negotiate with and represent economic and political conflicts and how such presentations manifest in the dual role of media as hegemony and resistance.

Session 5b (summary by John Seed)
Theme: Public Protests: Riots, Marches, Demonstrations, Occupations

Carl-Ulrik Schierup and Aleksandra Ålund, “A moment for social justice? -- Reading the Stockholm riots” (with Lisa Kings) / “Reclaiming Sweden Crisis, Riots and New (Counter-) Movements”

Discussion was not so much about the causes of the 2013 Stockholm riots, or about the event itself, as about the consequences. Will this be a moment of truth, an opportunity for a radical rethinking of the direction of Swedish society? Sweden is not part of the Euro and not a major casualty of the financial crisis of 2008. Nevertheless it has been subjected to sweeping neoliberal reforms since the 1990s and is now in a period of deep social crisis. Emergence of populist and racist parties on the right and of new movements for social justice – Magafonen, the Panthers (Gothenberg) and other anti-racist campaign groups with significant female presence, generating new forms of action, new forms of identity, transnational linkages – new initiatives in education and across the media. But a critical perspective needed on these new Swedish movements: are we looking here at a Gramscian war of position and new transformative strategies – or merely a ‘new tribalism’ (Castells) easily co-opted into the established order?

Questions were raised about the social base of these movements and their capacity to sustain themselves. There’s an evident contrast between the organizations of the labour movement which helped establish the Swedish welfare state in the 1930s and the much more fragmented groups of young people and ethnic minorities attempting to resist its demise. This raises questions about generations and other groupings in Swedish society. Social tensions are not simply about white/black hostilities – they involve substantial groups of migrants from Eastern Europe, Italy, and Syria. Falsity of straightforward distinctions between the economic and the social or cultural or political: campaigns are often to do with social reproduction, housing, family support, the environment.

Karim Murji, “Riot: Race and Politics in the 2011 Disorders”

Riots are often placed within one of three explanatory frames – ‘linking’, ‘denying’ and ‘asserting’. ‘Linking’ connects a specific riot across time and space to other events and riots, or to ongoing long-term issues, such as policing. ‘Denying’ is a way of refusing any kind of social or political meaning – any riot is merely an instance of mindless criminality or gratuitous violence. In contrast to this under-reading, ‘asserting’ affirms a riot’s social and political significance – providing an over-reading which often cannot be supported by evidence.

The paper outlined strengths and weaknesses of each of these explanatory frames making the case for a more nuanced and contextualised understanding of riots.

Questions were raised about whether these frames were mutually exclusive. Were they merely inadequate theorisations rather than effective political narratives? Another issue raised was the danger of isolating the riot as a specific and spectacular event, forgetting everyday forms of conflict that precede, accompany and follow riots. Some interesting issues to do with policing and race were debated. Problems of how to interpret a specific riot – and the intentions of rioters – should not obscure its very real political effects. Nor should the politics of riots obscure the sometimes brutal violence, looting and rape that accompany them.

Marnie Holborow, “The case of the Irish Protest Movement against Austerity – the right to water”

The importance of the lived experience of austerity measures was stressed. Protest is not just against austerity per se but also against strategies for its implementation. Questions were raised about how mass protests are mobilised and how common sense is transformed into critical sense by action (Gramsci). The case of water – its commodification and impact on families via massive increases in water bills – alongside disastrous effects of austerity on wages, housing, social benefits. Local and national protests have sprung up across Ireland – 57% have refused to pay bills. Transnational dimensions of these protests were cited – identification with Syriza and Greek protest movements, use of Greek flags in Irish demonstrations.

Questions noted the implications of water privatisation – the body and the commodification of life itself. There was discussion about short-term effects of active protest, but also of visionary effects – protest can demystify the established reality, exposing the vulnerability of power and the practical possibilities for radical change. The future is not decided.

Lee Monaghan and Micheal O’Flynn, “More Than Anarchy in the UK: ‘Social Unrest’ and its Resurgence in the Madoffized Society”

Madoff and the Ponzi scheme provide models for the neoliberal economy: wealth through the expansion and circulation of debt. Financialization provides a device for exploiting a population directly: “trickle-down looting”. ‘Madoffization’ is a conceptualisation of contemporary society parallel to George Ritzer’s in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). Historical precedents for moralising these kinds of theft from the public: Victorian attitudes to the undeserving poor. You might not be able to predict a riot but you can identify places where there is “combustible material”.

Questions about the absence of Irish riots connected discussion to earlier papers. The danger of over-valuing the spectacle of riot and neglecting other everyday forms of protest and conflict – there were many other forms of angry reaction in Ireland – the water protests.

Stoyan Antonov, “The Bulgarian Protests: an Extreme Case”

Bulgaria is ranked last in EU in terms of freedom of the press and of GDP per capita – and close to the bottom in terms of corruption and lack of economic freedom. Street protests against successive governments: between January and March 2013 and again between May and July 2013. Did these protests achieve anything? Research conducted via Facebook exchanges with a leading figure in the protests and an important political researcher in Bulgaria – producing some provisional answers. Emergence of new active citizens’ groups and the discrediting of conventional relations between oligarchy, government and media: a kind of ‘moral revolution’ or a ‘second democratic revolution’? New forms of political action via social media have emerged.

There was discussion about the social base of protest movements in Bulgaria and about the problems of distinguishing between post-socialist and neoliberal effects.