Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nuit debout: Movement or Stasis?

As Jean-Claude Monod disarmingly admits at the outset of his "impression" of Nuit debout in Libération, it has become something of a cliché for graying philosophical heads to mingle with the crowd on the place de la République to try to glean from the assembled masses some inkling of what is going on. Is this a social movement, despite its apparent lack of ... movement--after all, its distinguishing mark is that it stands still, going nowhere, rather than marching on some Bastille of the imagination? Or is it yet another sign of social stasis--an indication that people are fed up with the way things are but have no idea where to go from here? Monod seems to come down, gently, on the side of the latter interpretation:
Ce mouvement est bien l’expression d’une «crise de gouvernementalité», selon l’expression de Foucault dans Naissance de la biopolitique, c’est-à-dire d’une façon de dire «nous ne voulons plus être gouvernés de cette façon». La crise de la gouvernementalité néolibérale est aujourd’hui patente, la subordination de la politique aux intérêts économiques dominants manifeste, le roi est nu… mais les contre-propositions sont peu lisibles, les alternatives économiques peu élaborées, l’organisation en mouvement durable incertaine, bref - «il se passe quelque chose», mais tout reste à faire.
I'm 3000 miles away, so it's hard for me even to form an impression of the movement, let alone an analysis. I hope that along with the philosophers, from Monod to the unfortunate Alain Finkielkraut, who was jeered by some of those gathered on the place when he tried to sample what was on offer, a few sociologists are at work among the demonstrators. I have seen very little about the social composition of the crowd: even basic data such as age, class and educational background, and employment (or lack thereof) are absent. We know that the movement has spread from Paris to dozens of other cities around France, but we, or at any rate I, have little information about how sustained the presence of demonstrators is elsewhere or whether the social composition varies from place to place.

Commentators remark on the similarity to the Occupy and Indignados movements, but we know that in the case of Occupy the social composition of the crowd changed over time, tensions arose among the participants, and there were conflicts with authorities in some places but not in others. We also know that these earlier manifestations of inchoate discontent found political prolongations in some places (Podemos in Spain, for example) but not in others, or at least less visibly in others (the extent to which Bernie Sanders, say, or Jeremy Corbyn drew on veterans of Occupy is not well understood). In short, there is work to be done on Nuit debout, and I hope there are chercheurs in the field doing it. In the meantime, testimony like Monod's is valuable for what it is--the impression of an intelligent and sympathetic but skeptical older head, wondering, as older heads must, what all these young people are on about.

ADDENDUM: A reader calls attention to this article on the social composition of the movement.


Anonymous said...

Significant violence today at Place de la Nation (apparently organized); May 1 coming up on Sunday. Based on news coverage tonight, the protests seem to be rapidly exhausting the public's patience.

Nathaniel said...

I've been down to République several times. The Slate article comes the closest I've seen to an accurate representation of Nuit Debout. It's really less a political rally than a youth/leftist/counterculture rassemblement. Equal parts rally and rave. The political discourses are sometimes tiresome (as in the vegans fighting against "antispécisme") but the overall atmosphere is pretty refreshing. People having earnest conversations about issues, working together to create a communcal experience, and also just having a good time. For me, the general atmosphere of anarchy, including the party element, is as radical as any of the political discourses shouted through megaphones.

But I don't understand this talk of there being bobos there. It's the least bobo thing I can imagine: inclusive, all ages, classes, levels of personal hygiene, sitting on the dirty ground, listening to reggae, techno, drinking Kro out of cans...

It's more a case of the term "bobo" being misused. I always liked this term because it had an economic/class significance. To use the term to describe unemployed twenty-somethings who are interested in art and politics and drink beer out of cans at Place de Republique is to divest it of any meaning whatsoever.

Fred Heutte said...

This is quite a good analysis, I think: