Prefiguration in Contemporary Activism: Video Resources

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Keynote address:
Dr Marianne Maeckelbergh, Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University
‘The Prefigurative Turn’




Over the past few decades, ‘prefiguration’ as both practice and theory of social change has slowly come to occupy a central place in political struggles around the world. More and more scholars are exploring prefigurative politics in an attempt to understand what these approaches to social change might mean for social movements, contemporary politics, and for the types of social change we can hope for in the future. In the analyses of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s, prefiguration was closely linked to the notion of ‘cultural politics’. This allowed analysts to see a much larger set of social relationships as essential to creating meaningful political change. Critics, however, argued that prefiguration was not a viable strategy for ‘real’ social change because it emphasized interpersonal relationships and left political and economic structures untouched. This paper draws on two decades of participation in prefigurative movements, specifically research on the alterglobalization movement and the recent wave of assembly and occupation-based movements, to explore the day-to-day dynamics of prefigurative politics and offer some key points for reflection on the possibilities and problems of prefiguration as a strategic practice in ongoing struggles to transform democratic politics and capitalist economy.