A. State-of-the-Art and objectives____________________________
At the foundations of EuroProtest is an interest in politics, defined as the capacity to act on and manage one’s existence and that of others. More precisely, the research project focuses on exploring how the political manifests itself in individuals through protesting. In other words, EuroProtest seeks to assess how political subjects are formed today, a context in which a multitude of consistent indicators tend to show that we are at the beginning of a phase of intensifying social conflictuality. Indeed, the production of the political is not only the prerogative in the policy fields of representative democracy and electoral contests (Bourdieu, 2000). It also materialises in other domains and, notably, within different protest movements (Mathieu, 2011), which, during the last few years, have developed significantly, particularly in terms of large-scale social demonstrations.
I will present in detail below the theoretical and methodological approaches that I intend to employ in order to carry out my research project. First of all, it seems important to start my proposal by briefly outlining the analyses and hypothesises that feature prominently in my research interests. I will then explain how I will overcome the shortcomings of existing thought on the political, which does not always provide the means to consider precisely the critical subjects (individuals), who are, nevertheless, at its centre.
A.1. Contextual Information
A number of factors tend to show that we are currently living in an age of permanent crisis (institutional, ideological, of legitimacy), within which the level of social unrest (strikes, demonstrations, uprisings, riots, etc.) may become particularly high and manifest itself in many more varied forms, especially amongst younger generations. The question of social justice and the fight against the banks, big groups, and international institutions, which sparked the anti-globalisation movement at the beginning of the century, remain powerful motors for political ‘radicalisation’ as much in the old Western democracies as within emerging countries. This upsurge, a consequence of social conflictuality, results in a strengthening of governmental responses, leading to passive revolutions from the organisation of welfare to increasing economic liberalisation, and including recourse to forms of repression and reactionary offensives that weaken democracies, particularly in Europe: damaging certain fundamental rights, permanent state of emergency (e.g. in France), secessionism (Brexit), retreats into national identity, populism, and ultranationalism (rise of the extreme right in Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands, etc.), the emergence of religious radicalism (notably Salafism, jihadism) etc. Without wanting to — nor being able to — address an exhaustive map of protest movements, I nevertheless wish to underline some essential points that would justify this academic — and civil — interest in social criticism and its principal domains of development.
Employment-related conflicts have continued to grow since the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis and the introduction of the austerity plans that accompanied it. In effect, the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank provoked numerous economic, social, and political crises, notably those of government debt in Europe. In the old industrialised countries, the statistics highlight a series of worrying transformations for a large majority of their populations: wage stagnation despite significant productivity gains, rise in precarious contracts (Jobs Act in Italy, ‘minijobs’ in Germany, etc.), increased pressure on unemployment, decreased levels of social security, increased working hours, increasing numbers of working poor (notably women and young people). Furthermore, the forced displacements of populations have intensified and created significant migration crises that are difficult to curb. It is thus no surprise that the level of social conflictuality has only risen, notably in Europe and bordering countries, and it has been channelled into a new type of mass mobilisation (Mason, 2012): the ‘Arab Spring’ in the Maghreb and the Middle East; the anti-austerity Indignados Movement in Spain and in Greece; and, more generally, the numerous crisis movements appearing in a more or less organised and timely fashion across almost the entire old continent, of which the movements against the labour law in France or the Hartz reforms in Germany are emblematic examples. According to certain authors (Juris, 2012), these movements are characterised by and constructed through common compounding factors that notably draw on the anger of young people, who are increasingly educated, but still face mass unemployment and insecurity.
‘New’ Social Movements
Alongside this social criticism, which has been reignited by crises, is the rise of struggles championed by a growing sphere of groups that, in an extension of their 1970s forefathers, are still often described as ‘new social movements’ (NSM), as they undertake causes other than those that arise from the capital/labour contradiction, and that address identities other than class (Melucci, 1980). The principal differences between the ‘new’ social movements and older forms of collective action reside not only in their social base, their objectives, and their demands; it is equally found in their capacity to create a new political space, which disrupts the traditional distinction established between the State and civil society. NSMs create intermediate public spaces that function to raise awareness of social issues, which might be translated into politics, notably in terms of rights. During the last decade, not only have NSMs continued to increase, but they have also been expanding their range of causes and demands: feminist, LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex), environmental, migrant, anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-postcolonial, and even groups against ‘imposed mega projects’ deemed ‘unnecessary’. Feminist movements, for example, constitute an important strand of mass mobilisations focusing on violence against women (rape, feminicide, etc.), maintaining rights to contraception and abortion, financial independence, equal pay, etc. To cite another example, the environmental movement has never been so high profile, undertaking causes linked to global warming and mobilising for the Zones to Defend (the airport construction project in Notre-Dame-des-Landes and the Sivens dam project in France, the No TAV movement in Italy, etc.).
Oppositional Cultural Fronts
Moreover, a number of causes are championed through the domain of culture. Within this sphere, one focus is the professional situation of artists and the retention of specific compensation schemes. Another seeks to provide the means to propose alternative content to the mass production of the cultural industries, which are accused of bowing to a rising commodification that removes its critical substance. Through cultural production, numerous initiatives, sometimes very localised (within a street, a neighbourhood, a village, etc.), tend to turn against hegemonic social and political schemes. To this end, the construction of oppositional cultural fronts (squats, theatres, third places, cooperatives, folk high schools, etc.) aims to produce a criticism of ‘dominating cultural constructions’ (le Blanc, 2014: 5). These initiatives draw on a large range of practices (music, theatre, videography, dance, street arts, digital technologies, scientific knowledge) that centre on creating critical forms conceptualised as weapons of empowerment and a political intervention in social reality. Thus, in their diversity, these ‘other spaces’, to draw on the terminology of Michel Foucault (1984), attempt to offer what their practitioners conceive as cultures of popular resistancethrough which they believe they can participate in the creation of a new intellectualism (an autonomous political subjectivity — Losurdo, 2006). Their aim: the emergence of communities that are aware of, sensitive to, and mobilised for the purposes of social transformation; in other words, in the capacity of planning for a future with current emancipatory possibilities.
The importance of social conflictuality — which has become one of the essential levers for practical action and efficient criticism — in these different areas demonstrates that for a growing number of citizens the number of days on strike will increase, as well as those participating in demonstrations or even riots. As we have already seen, the resulting protest action manifests itself diversely. Yet, despite the evident variety of causes, demands, and range of actions that form protest movements, contemporary contentious politics (Tilly, Tarrow, 2015) increasingly articulates itself through a broad intersectional basis. More and more, it requires cooperation and working with allies who share similar motivations for political construction. Furthermore, it must be noted that the most prominent movements (the Arab Revolutions, Occupy, Indignados, etc.) have universal demands that successfully align some heterogeneous anti-establishment positions for a limited period.
A.2. Theoretical Approaches: From Philosophy to Social Sciences
The political is generally considered as part of a philosophical subfield dedicated to its study, as a singular activity relative to the process of identity construction, which is simultaneously individual and collective (the process of subjectification) and born at the crossroads of concrete practices of publicisation and public actions. The processes of political subjectification are thus envisaged, with important nuances according to traditions of thought (multiculturalism, republicanism, federalism, etc.), as a mix of the dynamics within communal (and also individual) identity and the reasons behind overcoming them through action(Ardent, 2014). In this perspective, then, at the heart of the political is the question of ‘conformity’ to forms of subjectification within a cosmopolitical horizon of citizenship (Tassin, 1997).
If this model of understanding the political proves to be heuristic, it is less robust in its tendency to oppose, in quite an artificial way, the dimension of identity (being) and the praxeological dimension (acting). In fact, these considerations reveal further elements within the same dialectic, rather than a thinking that opposes one against the other. Communities, just like common worlds, reveal the dynamics of individual and collective subjectification that draw on the construction of spaces of communication and action, which potentially mutually enrich each other and are, to a certain extent, supposed to conjoin their inherent differences. In other words, the processes of political subjectification are located at the crossroads of modes of identity production and overlapping ‘shared/common’ production (i.e. one and the other fitting together), mixing being and actionwithout the possibility of considering that one originated in the other (in the record of events) or that one must prevail over the other (in the order of values).
If communal identity is not opposite to political identity, it is also not antonymic to civil activities, but an essential ingredient in its existence and manifestation. The processes of communal subjectification and citizenship are interlinked, and it is within that complexity we see the possibility of expressing conflictuality, which finds itself converted into a concerted action (Arendt, 1977). The political community, therefore, is not supposed to erase identities, but to combine them to create an intermediary space in which ‘we relate to others and, from there, to ourselves’ (Tassin, 1991: 33). This confrontation equally is found in the principles of certain American political philosophers (Emerson, Thoreau – Carell, 2009) who refuse ‘civic patience’ between two elections, but defend a relationship to the political, which makes consent a permanently reintegratable element of representative democracy through protesting. According to this view, relating to others, resulting in the emergence of a political community, would not boil down to an adherence to the principle of delegation, but shows a renewed capacity for opposition and, therefore, to speak for oneself. In this way, Ralph Waldo Emerson envisaged the political as indexed to a certain self-reliance (1841), allowing the individual to recover or maintain a personal autonomy and an anti-conformism. Here, the individual is at the centre of the political, but considered as an essentially reasoned being before working on his/her capacity for opposition by way of education. Translated into more sociological terms, Emersonian perfectionism opens up a valuable reflection on the possible conditions of a political engagement that is revealed in delegative democracy or protest democracy.
In the Social Sciences, it has often been highlighted how access to the political sphere is conditioned by the prerequisite acquisition of certain forms of capital (social, cultural, etc.) and that political appetite has always been linked to particular socialisations leading to its emergence or, by contrast, its withdrawal (Bourdieu, 1979; Gaxie 1978). This interest in forms of socialisation that determine the ways in which the ‘political comes to the individual’ was essentially, in the first instance, carried out on spaces of militant partisans or trade unionism, i.e. the most institutional (Percheron, 1993). When it is applied to social movements, it generally rests on explanations that privilege organisational frameworks and resource mobilization (McCarthy, Zald, 1977) to the detriment of approaches that are more squarely interested in political subjects in their individual and subjective dimension. Once again, the political subject has mainly been considered as a reasoned being, weighing up the costs and advantages of his/her engagement (Olson, 1978).
Within the last twenty years, however, the work undertaken on individual engagement and its determinants has developed and shown the importance of biographical journeys and trajectories of political actions, notably protesting. The analysis of ‘militant careers’ (Fillieule, Mayer, 2001) has, for example, revealed a nuanced understanding of the motivations that prevail in engagement, militant capitalism, and in the porosity that exists, on the one hand, between different spaces of social protest and, on the other hand, between these spaces and the political sphere. We equally know that interest in and the appetite for engagement are motivated by the psychoaffective parameters of confirming one’s identity, the search for solidarity, or even the symbolic retributions that constitute the ‘spice’ of the experience of protesting.
Part of this work has therefore unveiled the necessity of articulating the objective structure of political production to their existential realisations, i.e. to their subjectifications. Indeed, it is precisely this avenue that I wish to pursue. In adopting this approach, I seek to orientate the EuroProtest project around a view that would not oppose identity and action, community and citizenship, private and public, collective and individual, external structures and behavioural economics, etc. Instead, it is about reconstructing the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity in order to evaluate the variable range of these relations within the specific framework of social conflictuality. I am interested in what I henceforth term ‘critically engaged subjects’. More precisely, I want to research critically engaged subjects from a dispositionalist approach; in other words, in terms of their anti-establishment positions (Mathieu, 2012). Building on this approach will allow me ‘to consider together questions of predisposition for militantism, carrying out political acts, the different and variable forms that engagement manifests itself in across time, the multiplicity of engagements throughout life […], and the retraction or extension of engagements’ (Fillieule, 2001: 201).
As I have just summarised, in the future, social movements are, in all likelihood, destined to play a decisive role in different political scenes at local, national, and European level. Furthermore, concentrating on the production of political subjects seems to me an entirely central concern for our contemporary democracies. Focusing on the motivations for individual engagement, as EuroProtest envisages, will provide the means to understand the complexity of links and relations that unite forms of citizenship, which one tends to characterise too quickly as opposites, whereas most of the time they are part of the same shared political sphere. A deeper understanding of individual positions, which are at the very heart of engaging in different forms of social criticism, will notably allow us to envisage ways of reintegrating protest movements into stable democracy within the European context and, in doing so, overcome these mutual accusations: delegitimatisation of collective protest in the name of representative principles, whilst denouncing political institutions and delegative democracy as instances of social order.
Without being naive, EuroProtest may constitute the initial foundations of a future interdisciplinary and international perspective on social conflictuality within the European context and, thereafter, participate in the study, analysis, and practical construction of a new citizenship. Today, new forms of citizenship are struggling to emerge and, in a number of regards, can even manifest themselves negatively (the rise in racism, xenophobia, communitarianism, identity politics, etc.). Therefore, the key issue is to consider how, over time, collective protest can draw on and enrich representative democracy through four foundational and practical factors of democracy itself: political education (training), vigilance (sousveillance), evaluation (counter-expertise), and contestation in action (interrogation).
From another view, this time more scientific than civil, EuroProtest aims to break down disciplinary research interests on protest action. I would particularly like to show how much the dispositionalist constructivism, proposed by Pierre Bourdieu and later reworked by Bernard Lahire, provides fertile tools for considering the dialectical processes of objectification/subjectification, and, more precisely, those that treat the implementation of forms of critical resistance, an understudied area from this perspective. As such, the project’s proposed contribution is the construction of a theory that incorporates and enriches the inputs emerging from this field of study, whilst interacting with other models of critical analysis (social philosophy, clinical sociology, existential analysis, psychoanalysis, etc.) will produce further developments that my team will discuss by holding workshops. Indeed, it seems to me interactions of this nature could lead to enhancing the descriptive and critical impact of the dispositionalist approach that is at the theoretic heart of our project and which I will now explain.
A.4. Politics and Positions: Problematic
Using a dispositionalist lens, EuroProtest’s objective is to understand the forms of political subjectification that circulate within contemporary social criticism. My approach draws on the works of Pierre Bourdieu, who constructed a sociology of obedience based on genetic structuralism/structuralist constructivism. One of its strengths is to provide a way of analysing the inscription of the individual in society and of society in the individual. This type of approach allows me to envisage contexts and critically engaged subjects as facts and historic individuals, constructed by human action and bearing the marks of society. This thesis facilitates the principle of transcending each individual case and understanding scientifically the movement of real, historical, and structural social totalities, whilst taking into account the social configurations ‘that determine all the human beings who are part of it, without really having predicted, wanted, [or necessarily] planned it’. We will ask: ‘in effect, what is an individual if not from head to toe a social production, a product of past and present interdependent relations into which he/she entered and, as such, to their existence he/she contributed’ (Lahire, 2013: 41).
Amongst the enlightened followers of Bourdieu, Bernard Lahire is the one who has discussed most skilfully and carefully the contributions of the theory of habitus. His sociology, which he terms ‘psychological’ or ‘on an individual level’, proposes a particularly useful reflection that describes and analyses the genesis and the structure of social practices in a perspective that is sensitive to the plurality of preferences and schemas of incorporated experiences. His approach also takes into account, in the wake of the Bourdieusian theory of habitus, ‘the “incorporated past” (the products of past socialisation) with a view to make sense of practices […] and therefore strives to reconstruct the incorporated past that affects the actors studied in the different scenes of present action’ (Lahire, 2013: 137–138). For my project, I want to identify the dispositional frameworks that mobilisecritically engaged subjects within the protest activities that they develop, within which they are created, and, by doing so, identify the forms of subjectification and subjectivities that produce them as political subjects. Indeed, Lahire’s sociology aims ‘to address theoretically the question of the incorporated past, of previous socialising experiences, whilst avoiding neglecting or nullifying the role of the present (of the situation), as if our entire past acts “as one man”, in each moment of action’ (Lahire, 1998: 54).
The problematic that Lahire develops, therefore, reassesses the principle of genetic structuralism/structuralist constructivism, which aims to consider social practices as the combination of the incorporated dispositional frameworks, of which the origin contains the existence of socialising factors prior to action (‘present action is haunted by the involuntary memory of past experience’ — Lahire, 2013: 139), and the singular practical contexts that call, allow, suspend, or proscribe, more or less vigorously, the implementation of diverse positions, which social subjects bear by taking part in the action. Moreover, Lahire specifies that ‘all researchers who, within defined empirical research, strive to reach the explanatory balance pointbetween the study, on the one hand, of the actors’ socially incorporated properties and, on the other hand, that of the socially objectified properties of contexts inevitably combine dispositionalism and contextualism (Lahire, 2012: 21–22).
Fundamentally, it is about identifying the social practices (specifically protesting in my case) ‘at the intersection of thesocial attributes of actors and the social attributes of the contexts in which they inscribe their actions’ (Lahire, 2012: 21). This ‘social matter’, which reveals a genesis that one can at least partially situate and reconstruct, is distinguished by being subject to change, because it is incorporated and borne by the subject. It highlights practical competencies (the capacity to respond to the demands of a situation by voluntary mobilisation of specific knowledge and know-how) and positions (inclinations to act, believe, think, feel, etc.) which, through action, tend always to meet another materiality, that of context. For Lahire, this second form of materiality uncovers the specific constraints of each context of action.
In relation to this general framework, here, I would like to make three important distinctions that will establish the way in which I plan to interface this dispositionalist approach with my discipline.
–The first concerns the characterisation of the framework of action, which tends to be envisaged under the angle of obligation. If the context inevitably proves to be charged with a social ‘weight’ that one cannot be completely free from, most situations, nevertheless, allow the participating critically engaged subjects, more or less consistently, some room for manoeuvre. Apart from falling into a form of determinism, it is therefore useful to not consider engaging in political action as a response to imperative causalities, either positional or contextual in nature. This type of fatalism removes the possibility of envisaging that individual liberty might be exercised, and it avoids the necessity of having to interrogate concrete conditions, such as inaction or social change — this is not what Lahire proposes. Yet, the formulation, which privileges a presentation of the context under the angle of further constraint than under that of solicitation, could, in my opinion, result in erroneous interpretations of the reasons behind political action.
–The second observation concerns the materiality of the social context. From the perspective of positions and competencies (i.e. at a meso level, that of social subjects), this social matter is undeniably a historical body engrained with the different ‘manners of being in the world’. From the perspective of context, social materiality (historical action — Bourdieu) connects diverse forms of materiality: norms and rules, people, groups, and technical devices that combine to form unique social organisations, situations, and structures, and of which it can be valuable to distinguish the nature of their elements. Focusing on the context, then, leads to being aware, at a micro level, of the practical situations that connect the social subjects, who take up positions that require different normative or technological ‘touchstones’ within structures and social institutions, in order to ‘understand the levels of different social realities […] and to analyse the varied aspects or dimensions of practices’ (Lahire, 2012: 19), which, necessarily, invariably returns to macroscopic realities. In addition, it will be important, as I see it, to pay significant attention to the concrete complexity of situations that critically engaged subjects come across.
–My third and final point is that certain contexts (and only certain) meet the precise criteria of a field; in other words, a more or less autonomous sphere of activities emerging from issues of social differentiation and indexed to systems of identifiable topics (common spaces, normal rules, procedures, etc.). These factors are relatively stable, irreducible to those in another field, and defined by an action and social issues, which involve the individuals in this social microcosm and situates them in a structured space of positions more or less dominant/dominated. Indeed, the political contexts that I am primarily interested in, even regarding a structural history of protest spaces, are not necessarily fields (Lillian Mathieu, for example, prefers the space of social movements — 2012), so I do not focus on the exclusivity of engendering positions, nor even their realisations. Lahire’s contextualism invites us to consider the production and implementation of positions through the lens of approaching a social issue, which does not boil down to the socialisation within fields that only show ‘a definitive type, which is specific to its social context and emphasises its determined aspects (and not in their totality)’ (Lahire, 2012: 145). In other words, fields are social spaces that leave the traces of the differentiating phenomena of social reality. Certainly, the concept of a field acts operationally to understand social spaces (notably professional), where struggles for acquisition of dominant positons are developed, as well as the definition and appropriation of forms of capital that allow access to power more easily. In all cases, it cannot be considered the only possible resource for thinking about the way in which individuals undertake positions. For example, the majority of critically engaged subjects that I will be studying develop all of their confrontational activities within spaces where single conflicts take place. Moreover, their political relationship to the world is mobilised in very different contexts to the individuals who carry out the most directly political practices. In fact, there exists a multitude of other situations and social movements that are not organised under a system of constraint, which are specific to the fight for the determination and acquisition of forms of militant capital (ARSS, 2004; 2005) and of habitus that conforms to the expectations of each of their causes.
The dispositionalist approach that I will employ to consider forms of political subjectification consists of modes of thinking, acting, and feeling, and, therein, articulates both social internalisation (dispositions) and social externalisation (situations). A position is ‘an inclination or an internal appetence appearing within the course of the individual’s life through the different sites or steps of his or her socialisation. A position favourable to contestation materialises itself at the intersection of the production of protest behaviours and conducive circumstances’ (Mathieu, 2012: 184). This perspective represents a call to reunite aspects of social practices generally understood separately, as a result of specialisation within the humanities and social sciences and disciplinary isolation. Using interdisciplinary criticism, I will reassess traditional equivalences between psychology/interiority/historical body and sociology/social/historical action. This approach is not so much justified by the singular complexity of my goal (the varied forms of political subjectification), but rather by the necessity of working on the reconstitution of a social totality through linking the existence of critically engaged subjects, their political activities within social criticism, and the determinations that constrain the situations they come across. Furthermore, this critical interdisciplinarity rests on a three-fold comparison, comprised of:
-a) the geographic and socio-political realities within diverse national European territories — metropolitan and overseas — and areas outside of Europe (Maghreb, USA);
-b) the differing sites of protest movements that represent causes and singular demands;
-c) social criticism at moments of low, average, and high intensity.
Working on political positions firstly necessitates locating their origins (sociogenesis) and reporting on current anti-establishment action in relation to the individual past history of critically engaged subjects: what are the socialising context(s) that have literally produced the identified forms of political subjectification? Yet, equally, what are the contexts that have allowed it to stay active, to remain a motivation for protest action, or, alternatively, those that now have only a slight or even no influence on being or creating politically engaged subjects? Evidently, different forms of socialisation exist: ‘[notably] all depends on the time of socialisation: the relative earliness of socialising experiences; the intensity with which the position has been formed, stabilised, and sustained; and finally, the duration of the formation and reinforcement of the position. All positions of believing, acting, feeling, or thinking in a certain way do not benefit from the same conditions of socialisation and, therefore, cannot have the same strength, the same degree of permanence, and the same capacity to transfer from one context to another’ (Lahire, 2012: 41).
Moreover, as Norbert Elias underlines with regard to Mozart, dispositional attributes ‘are not inscribed before experience […] but are formed from the earliest stages of childhood through coexistence with others, and they became fixed under forms that will determine the course of one’s life, either progressively over the years, or sometimes very quickly following a particularly memorable experience’ (1991: 14). The incorporation of positions through socialising experiences suggests a long duration or a repetition of situations allowing a slow impregnation of the social subject. Conducting the EuroProtest project over five years will allow me to identify the evolution of positions of protest over that period and detect the elements that produce reorientations. The reasoning behind the acquisition and devolution of confrontational personality structures can equally reveal other types of social experiences and be linked to the phenomena of biographical rupture (McAdam, 1988) or of ‘shock’ or trauma that constitute moments of ‘redefining the social identity’ (Voetgtli, 2004: 145), which I will try to be attentive of.
A second axis of investigation will address how frameworks of protest behaviours cohabit within the same critical subject. The structure of dispositional prerogatives is founded on the creation of hierarchies that, in some ways, do not affect the diverse phenomena of an ‘intention to’ by the same factor of power and durability. If the positions were equivalent in strength, then, the context alone would possess the activating power and play the role of the trigger (in a manner of speaking, the context would go to ‘look for’ the position). Indeed, empirical reality leads to envisaging that the mobilisation of a position maintains the place and importance that it occupies by inheriting the practical forward-looking possibilities that the subject is diversely capable of. Equally, one must consider how positions are structured in relation to one another, because if it is evident that ‘[most of the time] positions are not permanently in action’, this does not mean that they become active ‘only in functioning within the contexts of action that present themselves’ (Lahire, 2012: 39), but sometimes in spite of the aforementioned contexts as well. As Lahire recognises, there also exists ‘permanent positions (transcontextual)’, which undoubtedly are not the most common (‘a possiblecase, a particular case amongst the collection of individuals inheriting positions and observable competencies’ — Lahire, 2012: 40), and are not amongst the most interesting to study due to their singular nature, which seems to create individuals who become bearers of subjects less ‘permeable’ to contexts.
It is thus a case of envisaging the degree of integration of positions that brings together and reinforces them, potentially in one or more habitus (here, a habitus of protest), without having to postulate that dispositional heritages are reduced to this or these habitus, or that they transfer and act automatically whatever the context. The habitus of protest ‘as a generating formula of practices’, or ‘a generating and unifying principle’ of anti-establishment practices, is not simply a matter of opinion. Instead, it is to be considered as a singular dispositional configuration that can be coloured strongly by the ‘personality’ of a critically engaged subject as a result of the durability and transferability of the positions that constitute it. This heightened level of integration reveals an important proximity relating to how incorporated positions contribute to their mutual reinforcement. Yet, as remarkable as this solidarity is and as important is its place within the behavioural economics of critically engaged subjects, it cannot be permanent. The cumulative factor of these positions does not necessarily continue and it cannot fully grasp the dispositional complexity of social subjects. Additionally, the habitus of protest should only designate the most interdependent dispositional organisations, but I suspect that these are perhaps more present within the heritage of positions of the individuals that I will study.
Finally, a third basis for investigation must be dedicated to what can be described as an ‘ethology’ of forms of anti-establishment political subjectifications: during which occasions are they active? What are the conditions of their perpetuation, their conversion, their transformation, their suspension, or their withdrawal? Yet, it is not about considering ‘the unity of dispositions, the degree of their durability, or even their activation in all circumstances of daily life’ (Corcuff: 2003, 80). Indeed, Lahire insists on the fact that positions are not unchangeable habits that each person would collect and store in an ever-increasing biographical complexity. The volume and diversity of positions of each critically engaged subject are potentially subject to variations, driven by certain positions acquiring even more strength, reducing, gaining a new robustness, or sometimes disappearing, according to the trajectories that we must identify in each specific case. What we must simultaneously capture most precisely as possible is the mobilisation of positions articulated in the varied contexts that can trigger them, inhibit them, but also undo them, alter them, modify them.
The analytical ambition of EuroProtest seeks to find ways of individualising the mechanisms that mark and determine the fundamental reasoning behind the engagements studied and those that are the principle and manifestation of effective protest practices. In order to objectify these elements, we must draw on innovative forms of evidence in the collection and treatment of data, allowing us to track precisely the diversity, specificity, superposition, and articulation of a set of situations and individual practices. To do that, it will be necessary to confront systematically and reflect on two traditional ‘techniques’ of distinguishing critically engaged subjects: those that privilege modes of thinking and feeling (internalist approaches) and those that are attached to objectifying situations and practices (externalist approaches). Instead, we will recontextualise many of the engagements from a diachronic point of view (giving attention to the dispositional matrixes linked to biographical lines of enquiry), and equally consider them in a synchronic perspective, or in the situation of their materialisation (pinpointing political positions functioning in contexts). As such, my hypothesis is that producing new techniques of linking internalist/externalist factors will drive a much more nuanced understanding of the forms of political subjectification. This method of enquiry will be thus applied to all areas of our research.
Semi-Structured Interviews/Life Stories
For a significant part of the project, my colleagues and I will conduct a series of semi-structured interviews (around forty for each area of research) on the political journeys of the critically engaged subjects studied. Moreover, within each of the half a dozen categories chosen, a series of 5 or 6 much more in-depth interviews will be conducted using the model of life stories and biographical approaches, which is likely to highlight the track record of the individual’s dispositional trajectory (diachronic aspects). It, therefore, will be a case of questioning the same critically engaged subjects several times (as such, diminishing the risks of biographical illusion) in order to consider to what degree their vision of protesting comprises of a set of positions that are transferable from one context to another, and to evaluate the nature of these dispositional repertoires within which this criticism takes places, and the socialising situations that it is a consequence of, but also, in other cases, that fuel it. We plan to capture the predominant socialising moulds of political subjectificantion and critical engagements of the subjects studied; to identify biographical ruptures; to ‘localise’ the individuals that have had a particular importance (moral, practical, etc.); and to understand the process of compartmentalisation and interpretation of diverse spheres of activity, sociability, and engagement. As such, these interviews will allow us ‘to bring to light [in terms of political subjectification] the degree of extension of its activation, the context of its implementation and that of its eventual withdrawal’ (Lahire, 2002: 37).
Amongst the subjects whose life stories we will collect, half of them will be followed in their diverse activities most specifically linked to their political engagements, ideally for three periods of a fortnight and corresponding to three specific moments of the protest activities that they engage in (synchronic aspects):
-a) ‘every-day’ participation in subaltern critical spaces during periods of low intensity;
-b) participation in oppositional critical spaces when established critical communities meet other, more or less similar, collectives in a double process of coming together (unity/alliances) and distinction (divergence/confrontations) during periods of average intensity;
-c) finally, participation in confrontational critical spaces when established critical communities or coalitions formed confront more directly public and/or private politics that they believe must be defeated.
This combination of ‘political moments’, operating within anti-establishment practices, allows us to consider more easily what reveals the reasons behind situations and how critically engaged subjects adjust to practical interactions. This diversity thus allows us to measure the relative weight of dispositional or situational factors. For these three moments and these three spaces (subaltern, oppositional, confrontational), log books will be handed out in order to conduct non-intrusive formal ethnographies(i.e. declarative), which will serve to highlight and question the most difficult to discern dispositional aspects of critically engaged subjects. Using these log books, we will ask the respondents to record systematically information relative to their protest activities, the situations and the individuals that they meet. This method will create an inventory of individual and collective actions for the subjects studied, informing us of the diverse contexts and reconstituting forms of collective assembly. The different information provided by these log books, together with conducting self-analysis interviews and recordings (story of practices), offers the opportunity to highlight practical actions and protest positions of action, thought, and sentiment. The log book technique allows us to draw out the architecture of political practices; to have direct access to the links activated by the individual during the study (extent and diversity of individual actors and mobilised collectivities); to reconstruct simply the characteristic forms of assembly in a given space; and to link them to precisely identified activities, as well as individual positions.
Varying the Range of Observation
The EuroProtest project will be conducted in light of a methodological principle that I could term, following Lahire (2004), as experimental sociology. The combination of these diverse recording methods (interviews, life stories, log books, self-analysis interviews, observations) will give me the opportunity to vary the range of observation and to set, ex post, a precedent by collecting detailed data; to address precise dispositional portraits (case studies) within set categories of critically engaged subjects; and to consider together protest activities and dispositional structures. This experimental approach offers the means to address, by comparison (notably regarding demands), an inventory of proximities, of variations, and of differences linked to forms of creating political subjects in the diverse contexts of protest movements.
By ‘working with evidence’ and mobilising varied methodologies to ‘arrive at the facts’, I seek to produce new and precise knowledge on the forms of political subjectification of politically engaged subjects and, more broadly, on their dispositional repertoires. Notably, I aim to identify the forms of subjectification within the practice of protesting, specifying their role, the method of their manifestation, the situations that they certainly control, and, by contrast, those that tend to neutralise them.
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