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Paradoxes of hierarchy and authority in the squatters movement in Amsterdam

This book is an ethnographic study of the internal dynamics of a subcultural community that defines itself as a social movement. While the majority of scholarly studies on this movement focus on its official face, on its front stage, this book concerns itself with the ideological and practical paradoxes at work within the micro-social dynamics of the backstage, an area that has so far been neglected in social movement studies. The central question is how hierarchy and authority function in a social movement subculture that disavows such concepts. The squatters’ movement, which defines itself primarily as anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, is profoundly structured by the unresolved and perpetual contradiction between both public disavowal and simultaneous maintenance of hierarchy and authority within the movement. This study analyzes how this contradiction is then reproduced in different micro-social interactions, examining the methods by which people negotiate minute details of their daily lives as squatter activists in the face of a funhouse mirror of ideological expectations reflecting values from within the squatter community, that, in turn, often refract mainstream, middle class norms.

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The autonomous life?

The introduction to this book places the squatters movement in Amsterdam in historical context, examining key events in the movement and charting changes to the politics of squatting and squatters lifestyle in the 70’s and 80’s through to the present day. In addition to examining the range of historical sources available on the movement, the introduction provides a review of social movement literature outlining the neglect of internal dynamics and social movement performances and habitus, which exists both in classical social movement literature and its recent culturally oriented scholarship, including those that result from ethnographic research and participant observation. Social movements literature is dominated by a series of recurrent theoretical questions, which are fairly removed from actual dynamics within social movements themselves, the main subject of analysis being “the social movement organization” rather than participants and symbolic aesthetics rather than portraits and analysis of social movement communities and the people who comprise them. As a study of these neglected areas and the internal social dynamics of the squatting scene, the introduction details the study’s methodology and the data collection process, including the significance of participant observation.

in The autonomous life?
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This chapter introduces a number of classifications and theoretical concepts. It presents a matrix of the types of skills and the style of the identity-making performances necessary to enable one to inhabit the ideal of the authentic squatter. Squatter capital, that is, specific skills and the differential prestige that one gains by excelling in such skills, describes the unspoken value system of the internal social world of the squatters' movement. Furthermore, to achieve a sense of authenticity, one must demonstrate that one has mastered and rejected tastes and values, both mainstream and those associated with the radical left; as well as performing an inculcated middle class value orientation to render invisible and natural a long, arduous and self-conscious processes of socialization and skill acquisition.

in The autonomous life?

This chapter explores how authority functions in this community. Specifically, the types of habitus and skills possessed by those who hold authority in the movement. The chapter examines the consequences of participants’ backgrounds on the activities of the movement and the invisible logic of why and how more culturally central people, who have a number of resources needed by a movement, accumulate capital and become authority figures.

in The autonomous life?

This chapter presents a cartography of internal power dynamics within the intimate space of squatted houses. Squatted houses comprise the fundamental basis of the structure of the squatters movement in Amsterdam. Communal living groups within squatted households both reflect and refract larger movement dynamics of hierarchy and authority. They reflect larger movement standards in the sense that one’s squatter capital contributes to one’s status position within a squatted household. They refract in that within a household, the highest values are to maintain a lively and peaceful group dynamic, silently maintain the unspoken hierarchies within a group without challenging them, and avoid tension and conflict

in The autonomous life?

Chapter 4 considers why social movement subcultures often serve as a form of youth culture. This leads to a number of activists constructing their involvements in social movements as a liminal, youthful stage in their lives before they transition to so-called adult lifestyles which require long-term commitment and responsibility, such as by dedicating themselves to a career and/or a family. Moreover, someone who has already transitioned into an adult lifestyle can then enter a movement subculture and revert to a youth cultures way of living defined by changeability, temporariness, and lack of responsibility.

in The autonomous life?
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The economy of unromantic solidarity

The conclusion of this book reflects on how this movement reproduces two social profiles of centrality and marginality and its economy of unromantic solidarity.

in The autonomous life?