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Justifying the protest camp: How Occupy movements’ ‘intimate protest’ challenged ideas about legitimate manifestation

Mischa J.T. Dekker & Jan Willem Duyvendak (2020)

European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology 7(4), pp. 452-476.

Abstract. The occupation of public space has become a key part of the repertoire of contention of contemporary social movements, at the heart of Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, Nuit Debout, and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring. Despite the enormous resonance that these movements have had, they have also engendered criticism. Based on in-depth ethnographic fieldwork of two Occupy movements–Occupy Wall Street in New York and Occupy Utrecht in the Netherlands–we show how media and other outsiders accused protesters of being insufficiently politically motivated, and overly concerned with what they considered to be ‘private matters’ such as sleeping and partying. By analysing debates and negotiations between protesters and outsiders over their right to occupy public space, we show how these encampments put received ideas on what constitutes a legitimate ‘political’ act of protest to the test. We propose the notion of ‘test’ from pragmatic sociology as a useful methodological and conceptual tool for social movement studies.

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