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Author: Davina Cooper

In reflecting on the book’s arguments and analyses, this chapter sketches four lines of analysis. First, it explores the prefiguring of concepts to advance new, more progressive meanings. Second, it explores prefiguration’s power or force, including through prefigurative state practices. Third, it addresses the importance of counter-systemic linkages to support and sustain prefigurative practices. Finally, it considers the place and value of prefiguration research and how it might be undertaken through the production of prototypes and other things.

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Authors: Luke Yates and Joost de Moor

Prefigurative politics plays an important role in a diverse constellation of themes relevant to contemporary political activity. This chapter analyzes and problematizes this diversity with respect to the sub-discipline of social movement studies. Debates about prefiguration began in discussions of social movements and political strategy in the late 1960s and 1970s. Since then, its meaning has evolved and its use has diversified. Over time, it has been associated with a range of collectives, political themes and orientations to activism, perhaps most prominently feminism, anarchism, environmentalism, direct action, alter-globalization, anti-austerity and new democracy mobilizations. The aim of the first part of the chapter is therefore to provide clarity about the explicit use of the concept since its emergence. In the second part of the chapter, focus shifts to the implicit use of the term. It is argued that prefiguration is at risk of being overused to describe horizontal, non-hierarchically organized Left-wing movements and of being underused in describing Right-wing movements, suggesting an implicit association with particular political positions. It remains to be seen whether prefigurative politics are indeed much rarer in Right-wing movements or simply, this area has been overlooked. The chapter concludes with a discussion of implications for future research.

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This edited volume aims to provide an accessible and interdisciplinary introduction to the concept of prefigurative politics. The idea for this collaborative project came from the realization that, despite the increasing popularity of the term across the Social Sciences, it is hard to find articles or books that, instead of taking its meaning for granted, aim explicitly at introducing, defining and discussing it. Gathering a set of short and incisive contributions from prominent experts, this book is divided into three parts. It begins with a Foreword by post-development scholar Arturo Escobar and closes with an Afterword by Davina Cooper, a leading researcher on transformative politics. The first part of the book offers an historical, philosophical, and theoretical introduction to prefigurative politics. The second part examines prefigurative politics “in practice” through case-studies and examples from social movements, civil society initiatives, and other alternative organizations. Among these, we find the long-lived intentional community of Auroville in India and the matristic Jineolojî eco-communes in Kurdish Rojava. The third and final part constitutes a meta-reflection on the challenges and opportunities that researchers encounter while studying prefigurative politics. In particular, contributors problematize the booming of prefigurative research in the last decade, they underline the different temporalities that one should take into account while assessing the impact of prefigurative movements, and, finally, they outline five main challenges that prefiguration researchers should address in the near future. In sum, this edited volume represents the ideal companion for students and researchers interested in exploring the thriving and vibrant field of research on prefigurative politics.

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In the past four decades, together with workers’ protests and strikes, subjectivities other than the organized working class – including indigenous peoples’ movements – have become stronger and more visible in the global struggle against global capitalism and for social, cognitive and environmental justice. These resistances are not only rejecting the present critical condition of the planet by demanding that the state act with urgency; these grassroots collectives, movements and community networks are also experimenting with alternative practices and social relations around issues of social reproduction of life amid a new global capitalist crisis deeply affecting the social reproduction of human and non-human life on the planet. This long-term transformation in the radical agency has awoken global solidarity, but the significant differences among these collective struggles still deserve attention. What are the clues to challenge the universalizing power of global capital and to decolonize prefiguration by finding adequate ways of understanding difference? This chapter addresses this question, aiming to contribute to the debate around prefiguration by suggesting that Bloch’s philosophy of hope is fundamental to understanding and decolonizing prefiguration: first, it facilitates comprehension of prefiguration as possibility, based on the utopian feature of the material world; second, it understands utopia as concrete praxis; third, it expands the meaning of prefiguration to a plurality of struggles and movements, ranging from urban resistances to indigenous peoples’ defence of their territory against extractivism. I explore three ways in which Bloch’s philosophy of hope can enhance the theory and practice of prefiguration: first, I expose Bloch’s philosophy of ‘possibility’ as a condition grounded in the (utopian) material world; second, I present Bloch’s notion of ‘concrete utopia’ as a praxis that opposes ready- made abstract utopias, and reposition prefiguration within, and not outside, the process of accumulation of capital, mediated by the state; third, I propose that Bloch’s notion of the ‘multiversum’ offers a decolonizing – non-linear – reading of history and time that enables us to decolonize prefiguration – that is, to comprehend prefigurative struggles as non-synchronous spatial temporalities emerging from a multiplicity of situations, oppressions and relations in, against and beyond the violent ongoing process of indifference, homogenization and synchronization that underpins the accumulation of capital.

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This edited volume aims to provide an accessible and interdisciplinary introduction to the concept of prefigurative politics. The idea for this collaborative project came from the realization that, despite the increasing popularity of the term across the Social Sciences, it is hard to find articles or books that, instead of taking its meaning for granted, aim explicitly at introducing, defining and discussing it. Gathering a set of short and incisive contributions from prominent experts, this book is divided into three parts. It begins with a Foreword by post-development scholar Arturo Escobar and closes with an Afterword by Davina Cooper, a leading researcher on transformative politics. The first part of the book offers an historical, philosophical, and theoretical introduction to prefigurative politics. The second part examines prefigurative politics “in practice” through case-studies and examples from social movements, civil society initiatives, and other alternative organizations. Among these, we find the long-lived intentional community of Auroville in India and the matristic Jineolojî eco-communes in Kurdish Rojava. The third and final part constitutes a meta-reflection on the challenges and opportunities that researchers encounter while studying prefigurative politics. In particular, contributors problematize the booming of prefigurative research in the last decade, they underline the different temporalities that one should take into account while assessing the impact of prefigurative movements, and, finally, they outline five main challenges that prefiguration researchers should address in the near future. In sum, this edited volume represents the ideal companion for students and researchers interested in exploring the thriving and vibrant field of research on prefigurative politics.

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This chapter discusses the concept of prefiguration as well as its recent proliferation in academia and beyond. More specifically, the chapter points to a number of issues with how the concept of prefiguration is currently being deployed across academic disciplines. First, the literature often fails to account for the effectiveness of prefiguration as a political strategy. Second, it frequently subscribes to puritan ideals, which render the studied movements prone to failure. Third, it almost completely neglects to study examples of Right-wing activism. Fourth, it sometimes commits the fallacy of circular reasoning whereby the premise and the conclusion of the argument overlap. Finally, it tends to portray prefigurative practices as particularly performative, vis-à-vis more strategic actions, without properly substantiating this claim. The chapter unfolds these five challenges in the form of a ‘sympathetic polemic’. The ultimate aim of the chapter is thus to advance the study of prefigurative politics beyond its current limitations through a constructive but forthright critique.

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An Introduction to Prefigurative Politics
Editor: Lara Monticelli

With the rise of urban gardens, worker-owned coops, ecological communities, and occupied factories, we are witnessing the emergence of a new wave of social movements.

Bringing together an international group of scholars, this edited collection covers theory, empirical case studies and methodology to analyse the unique characteristics of these movements which differ greatly from their precedents. The contributors demonstrate what we can learn from these movements to rethink our economies and societies.

This is a comprehensive and timely resource which will illuminate how prefigurative politics can help us envision a post pandemic, fairer and more sustainable society.

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Author: Lara Monticelli

The introduction provides the reader with an overview of the rationale, structure and contents of the book, which is includes a foreword by Arturo Escobar, 15 central chapters, and an afterword by Davina Cooper. The introduction begins by outlining the origins and usefulness of prefigurative politics today and then highlights some of the recurring themes connecting the chapters, including: the relationship between prefigurative politics, state bodies and capitalism; the transformative mechanism of ‘erosion from within’, typical of prefiguration; the challenges of assessing prefigurative initiatives’ capacity to bring progressive social change; the critiques pointing at prefiguration’s exclusionary and insular character; and the need to decolonize the epistemological lenses through which scholars are studying prefigurative politics. Following a brief summary of the 15 chapters, the introduction closes by underlining the vibrancy and interdisciplinarity of this field of research, which is set to keep growing given the necessity to envision more just and sustainable futures.

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Author: Mikko Laamanen

Prefigurative organizing has come to stand in contrast to traditional, formalized modalities of organization. In prefigurative organizing, organization as an entity becomes reimagined and transformed in experimentation with the kind of social order that is locally preferred. Yet the paradox of organizing prefiguration is how to navigate between the impossibility of structure and the impracticality of openness. In this chapter, I draw emphasis on the acts, rather than the forms, of organizing by using the conceptual lens of partial organization theory. This theory demonstrates the incompleteness of social order in its decided and emergent dimensions. For an empirical illustration of the inherent dynamics of prefigurative organizing, I draw on a first-hand action research in an alternative economy community. Here I show how the focal community deals with the paradox of organizing prefiguration with a process of blending various elements of formal and emergent (or informal) order. In conclusion, the chapter contributes to understanding how inclusive futures are enacted and exercised in present organizing practice by illustrating the dynamics and blending of the various elements of organizing.

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Author: Jilly Traganou

This chapter examines the trajectory of Christiania Freetown in Copenhagen, as an autonomous community of approximately 1,000 people who practice ‘right to the city’ principles in an environment that operates beyond state control. It looks at the spatial politics of Christiania as a differentiated spatial territory that is self-managed and self-governed through processes of commoning. Tracing Christiania Freetown’s trajectory allows us to see the permutations of a community that began by prefiguring an alternative society for all marginalized people and slowly transformed into a place-bound community with limited degree of porosity and intergenerational renewal. Christiania’s case, therefore, requires us to contend with the challenges and paradoxes inherent in the notions of differential spatialities and the commons, which are imminent in place-bound prefigurative political formations – and are only further accentuated when a community’s political horizon loses its capaciousness and attends mainly to localized needs.

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