The Occupy Movement A Crisis of Doxa

We are here because we have to be here. We are here because we have got no choice! (Indignados, Madrid, Spain, 2011)


The cooption of the UK arm of the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign in 2005 meant that the anti-capitalist protesters were perceived as fringe groups intent on causing trouble rather than trying to solve poverty. In fact, some activists stated the support the MPH campaign received and accepted meant that the G8 seemed to come away with renewed legitimacy (Hewson, 2005). At this point it seemed that the politics of anti-capitalism and possibly alter-globalization had been neutralized. However, a global financial crisis occurred in 2008, and by 2009 the first stirrings of a new wave of protests started to emerge. I observed, for example, the demonstrations in London against the G20, which then morphed into the climate camp. Even then citizens were attuned to the growing inequalities in society and the financial mismanagement of the economy. Some of the demonstrators were holding placards that stated: 'What a load of bankers!'

Back then nobody could have imagined the effects of the financial crisis. Indeed, the crisis was far reaching; in 2011 the world saw major uprisings in the Middle East, Western Europe and the USA. In the Middle East, we saw the Arab spring, whereby dictators were overthrown, for example, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Citizens facing economic downturn and civil rights violations occupied Tahrir Square, troops refused to move in on the protesters and instead helped to remove Mubarak. This occupation of a central city square resulting in revolution provided inspiration beyond Egypt. In Spain, the Indignados movement occupied Puerto del Sol square in Madrid in May 2011. Inspired and influenced by these events, the Occupy movement began in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park, New York, after the radical journal Adbusters sent out a call to Occupy Wall Street - the location that houses the people blamed for the financial crisis through their mismanagement of the economy. The Occupy movement spread to approximately 950 cities in 82 countries.

One of which was the UK. It lasted only a few months, beginning in October 2011 and ending around February 2012. Although there are Twitter accounts and Facebook groups that continue political discussions on Occupy, the physical presence in cities has largely disappeared.

This chapter focuses on the Occupy movement as a critique of neoliberalism. I argue that the effects of neoliberalism galvanized not only politicos within the anti-capitalist movement (ACM) field but also a citizenry who were not usually politically active. I argue that the Occupy movement is therefore a crisis of doxa. I explained in chapter 3 that doxa is the undiscussed and the taken for granted. It refers to the way in which fields are stable. In this case, the political field is stable because most citizens accept the political and social order of a society, especially in western democracies. This is not to say there is no contention or contest of power in western democracies, rather that most citizens' grievances are usually managed without causing a crisis leading to mass protest, much less a demand for political revolution. However, the financial crash of 2008 did cause a certain amount of economic instability, which caused a temporary political crisis. Although it seems this has now passed, it could be argued that citizens are more aware of the inequalities and injustices produced by neoliberal capitalism - especially those resulting from unregulated financial transactions.

It is important to separate out, for analytical purposes, the distinct positions of certain groups when discussing the concept of doxa. The political field is on the whole stable, most of which consists of citizens engaging in everyday activities and accepting the rules of the field. Within the field there is a level of discourse where debates and arguments take place between orthodox and heterodox positions. The orthodox is represented by those who support neoliberalism elites, financiers, some politicians, even some citizens who engage in relevant debates and activities. Then there are those who support the heterodox view, which contests neoliberalism - alter-globalization, anti-capitalist activists and those who are arguing against economic inequality. However, a crisis of doxa occurs when critique is elevated to the level of consciousness, beyond, say, academics, activists, politicians, elites and so on. A doxic crisis takes place when the broader populace starts to question the rules of the field because their subjective expectations have slipped out of alignment with objective reality. It is a situation when citizens have been shocked out of complacency, a disruption, and they are now no longer able to hold on to beliefs that they accepted before the financial shock. The Occupy movement is an example of a doxic crisis, as we shall see below, because citizens who were not usually politically active became activated by the financial crisis.

This chapter begins by outlining the context from which the Occupy movement emerged, particularly the effects of neoliberalism, including increasing unemployment in Spain and the UK, and increased flexible working patterns coupled with insecure employment conditions. I argue that the doxic crisis of the political field was precipitated by an exogenous shock from the economic field in the form of the financial crisis. The fact that democratically elected representatives could not control these effects raised the political doxa to the level of discourse. The next section outlines the origins of the Occupy movement and then focuses on the UK section specifically. I explain when and where it emerged and, more importantly, why. I explain, based on key literature and interview evidence, how it represents a crisis of doxa. The final section discusses how and why the Occupy movement failed, and the emergence of political tensions between activists in the UK.

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