Embodying Enfranchisement: The Affective Politics of Urban Social Movements

Ingram, Callum, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Rubenstein, Jennifer, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
White, Stephen, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Balfour, Katharine, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines the affective politics of urban social movements to develop a theory of embodied democratic enfranchisement. Social movements like the Paris Commune, Black Panthers, Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street often fail to achieve their goals, and are thus dismissed as ineffective, frivolous, and destructive. Drawing from political theory, architectural and urban theory, geography, and primary source materials, I develop an alternative framework that helps theorists and practitioners learn from the way these movements construct the affective – felt, sensed, emplaced, embodied – foundations of democratic citizenship. Even when apparently destructive or irrational, urban social movements can unite the built environment, normative claims, and bodily practice in ways that bring democratic equality and empowerment into alienating and violent modes of social and spatial organization. I call the affective politics of these urban social movements “embodied enfranchisement.”

While liberal democratic principles have the normative high ground, many living in purportedly democratic cities remain a long way from feeling included, equal, and empowered. This marks an important gap between the the formal and affective conditions of democratic citizenship. Building on recent efforts to better account for the politics of embodiment and materiality, my reading of urban social movements focuses on the roles of the body and architecture in popular claims to power and inclusion. From the Paris Commune’s understanding of the barricades as manifestations of popular power, to the Black Panthers’ breakfast programs, Situationist International’s artistic interventions in French universities, and Sustainable Seattle’s connection of local animal-life to global ecological changes, urban social movements unite the experience of the city with questions and realities of self-government. My affective reading of these movements shows how they build embodied enfranchisement, democratizing cities by taking hostile, alienating, and oppressive spaces and shifting them into sites where citizens can build democracy in concrete forms and real time.

My dissertation proceeds in two parts. In part one, I examine the emergence of contemporary urbanism and its discontents through a study of nineteenth century Paris. My first chapter places the Paris Commune in the context of this redevelopment, considering it as the first example of a movement seeking to build embodied enfranchisement in the modern city. My second chapter then considers the French state’s response to the Commune as exemplifying the urban forms and norms that counter a joyful urban affect. Part two of my dissertation shifts to consider how exemplary urban social movements reorient citizen affect in contemporary cities: the creation of heterotopias by the Situationist International and Black Panther Party (chapter three), and the crafting of a new civic imagination through community-lead ecological indexing projects by Sustainable Seattle (chapter four). While these exemplary studies do not exhaust the tactical repertoire of urban social movements, each provides a perspective on how they can successfully politicize space and empower citizens. I conclude by briefly considering joy as a criterion for evaluating the democratic successes and failures of urban space and architecture.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Democratic theory, Citizenship, Affect, Social movements, Embodiment, Enfranchisement, Architecture, Urbanism, Paris Commune, French Third Republic, Black Panther Party, Situationist International, Sustainable Seattle
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