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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bodies of Popular Power: Territorial Activism and Grassroots Control in Argentina

  • Author(s): Araujo, Steven Glen
  • Advisor(s): Thomas, Megan C
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Bodies of Popular Power examines how two place-based social movements actively produce spaces of resistance to challenge neoliberal fragmentation. The first is a worker-recuperated enterprise and the second is an unemployed workers’ movement, both of which can trace their origins to the Latin American neoliberal hegemony of the late 1990s. Based on eighteen months of intensive ethnographic fieldwork, I analyze the production of space and the role of autogestión (grassroots control) in each of these sites. Rather than limiting my analysis to how movements struggle within space, I show how these movements have actively produced new geographies in their struggle against neoliberalism. In this way, I put the central ontological tenet of the spatial turn, that space is not only a container of social relations but also a product of them, back at the center of the analysis. The inclusion of the local concept autogestión allows for a critical interrogation of the movement practices that strive to develop democratic subjectivities and build popular power. While there is an extensive literature, predominantly in Spanish, on each of these separate movements, few studies actually analyze them together. In the instances in which these movements are taken together, they are usually understood as examples of “horizontalism” or “autonomism.” This work often borrows from political theorists from the Global North who endorse autonomy and resistance at the global level. I contend this analysis conceals the place-based strategies and characteristics of these movements as well as the way in which they engage in an agonistic, hegemonic struggle within civil society but also with and against the state. Theorizing these movement practices as the spatial politics of autogestión, I make a unique contribution to the spatial turn and theories of radical politics while resisting the fetishization of autonomy or “autonomous spaces” that characterizes much of the recent work on social movements, especially in Latin America.

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