Prefigurative Politics on the Eve of the US Presidential Elections

The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility invites you to Prefigurative Politics on the Eve of the US Presidential Elections, the second seminar of the Mobility in Post Democracy Seminar Series organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics and co-sponsored by the Institute.

Encampment At Oscar Grant Plaza Oakland
Encampment At Oscar Grant Plaza Oakland

Mobility in Post Democracy
Post Democracy has recently arisen as a complex and contradictory term: for some it promises a new participatory platform for the mobilizing forces of social media, considered catalysts for political imagination. Others equate Post Democracy with democracy’s demise due to the penetration of global capitalism into every regime type coupled with the increasing intervention of international actors in domestic politics. Decried as “democratic melancholy,” such skepticism is considered ill placed by yet others for whom “democracy” was never a political system to aspire to.

Under the heading Mobility in Post Democracy, the Vera List Center is presenting a series of interdisciplinary panels, seminars, and lectures that examine Post Democracy as a condition informed by mobility – across institutions, states, and ideologies. The series brings together an international group of scholars, activists, students, and artists to probe the concept of Democracy more generally at the time of the contested U.S. presidential elections, and the concurrent emergence and demise of democratic regimes throughout the world.

Artist-driven, the events aim to ask questions such as: How can new social movements counter networks of power? What creative organizing tactics are being developed to reinvigorate a democratic ethos? What forms of political institutions and alliances are flexible and resilient?

Prefigurative Politics on the Eve of the US Presidential Elections

With the penetration of global capitalism and international influence across sovereign borders, the Mobility in Post Democracy series connects to the simultaneous disdain and opportunity revealed in the contemporary crisis of democracy. With many Americans dissatisfied with a political system that is mired in middle-of-the-road positions, how can we think about organizing beyond the affordances of the current system? This seminar on prefigurative politics and social movement strategy will address historical examples as well as contemporary manifestations of utopian societies that realize their own political ideals outside of mainstream society.

Beginning in the 1960s, social movements adopted the model of prefigurative politics, in which the structure and strategy were modeled after their idea of how the world should be. Occasionally labeled as utopian, prefigurative movements embody the vision of society they aim to realize. Rather than work within existing structures, these movements developed separate languages, norms, and institutions that operate outside the mainstream social, cultural, and political system. Practice oriented, prefigurative movements task individuals with creating the change they hope to see, typically through means of direct action. The strategy of prefigurative politics was revived with the anti-globalization movements of the 1990s and has gained in popularity with the visibility of Occupy, the Movement for Black Lives, and other contemporary social movements.

While mainstream media is absorbed in the U.S. election, what alternative models of politics are happening in the margins, largely unnoticed by these media outlets? Have social movements been effective in shaping the discourse of the presidential campaigns through prefigurative strategies? Can prefigurative strategies be employed outside of collective efforts, and to what ends? This event will begin with an artist presentation from 5-6, followed by a panel discussion reflecting on major moments in the history of prefiguration as they relate to our current political moment.

Erica Kohl-Arenas, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management, Milano
Sondra Perry, artist
Claire Potter, Professor of History, New School for Public Engagement
Sean Raspet, artist

November 07th, 4-9pm

Starr Foundation Hall, UL 102
63 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10003


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