The Autonomous Life?: Paradoxes of Hierarchy, Authority, and Urban Identity in the Squatters Movement in Amsterdam

N. Kadir

Onderzoeksoutput: PhD Thesis (Proefschrift)PhD thesis (Proefschrift)


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the internal dynamics of a subcultural community that defines itself as a social movement. The central question that I explore from a variety of angles is how an unresolved and perpetual contradiction between simultaneously publicly disavowing and yet maintaining hierarchy and authority within the movement profoundly structures the world of squatters. While the majority of scholarly studies on this movement focus on its official face on its front stage, I am concerned with a series of ideological and practical paradoxes at work within its complicated micro-social dynamics on its backstage, an area that has so far been neglected in social movement studies. Because the squatters’ movement defines itself primarily as anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, I explore the basic contradiction of how hierarchy and authority function in a social movement subculture that disavows these concepts. I analyze how this contradiction is then reproduced in many different micro-social interactions where people constantly negotiate minute details of their daily lives as squatter activists in the face of a funhouse mirror of ideological expectations which reflects values from within the squatter community, that, in turn, often refract mainstream, middle class norms. In this dissertation, I repeatedly revisit questions of performance and habitus. I use the term performance for self-conscious behavior exhibited by activists with a range of audiences in mind. Such performances include a number of characteristics. First off, I argue, they should display a specific socialization into a movement subculture through the practice of squatting and by learning a number of skills that gain prestige in this community, which I term squatter capital. Moreover, I demarcate that an essential element of this socialization is to render invisible the long and arduous process of skill acquisition, thus demonstrating a process of mastery and rejection. Finally, I contend that activists should present a hostility and rudeness that is in itself a rejection of imagined middle class insincere politeness. While performance reflects a self-conscious display of internal movement socialization, I use habitus to refer to the types of unselfconscious quotidian behaviors and style preferences that reflect an activist’s upbringing, and thus, his/her class and education. While performance is movement specific and theoretically accessible to all within the community to reproduce, habitus reflects class and education and hence hierarchy and differential status, which I assert, are taboo to acknowledge transparently in a subculture that claims emancipation from differential status hierarchies. Although these socializations exist independently of each other, I focus on the relationship between habitus and performance. For example, I illustrate when habitus contributes to the seamless performance of the ideal squatter self in the case of authority figures and their ability to mobilize their often educated, upper middle class habitus to effortlessly perform conviction. Or, on the other hand, I highlight when habitus undermines the convincing performance of the autonomous, defiant activist. Such as in the case of culturally marginal people, who may be addicted to alcohol or drugs, lack capacity to manage both movement and mainstream tasks, or simply originate from working class backgrounds. Consequently, such squatters project dependency rather than the emotional sovereignty valued in the movement. Both performance and habitus require recognition, and therefore, an audience. In addition to analyzing both successful and failed performances and the various types of habitus possessed by people in this community, I also consider how others recognize these performances mainly at the level of discourse. Moreover, I argue that when people in this community both gossip and classify each other negatively this reflects a squatter’s status and capital in the movement in unexpected ways. Furthermore, since members of this subculture are fiercely individualistic and view themselves as unclassifiable non-conformists, I contend that the best way to understand norms and values is through the negative classification of others that dominate subcultural discourse. In analyzing these interactions and methods of organization, I place as much value on the meaning of the silences and on the unstated assumptions as on the articulations.
Originele taal-2Engels
KwalificatieDoctor of Philosophy
Toekennende instantie
  • Yale University
  • Thomas Blom Hansen, T.B, Promotor, Externe Persoon
  • Kamari Clarke, K.M., Promotor, Externe Persoon
  • Ron Eyerman, R., Promotor, Externe Persoon
  • Michael Denning, M., Promotor, Externe Persoon
  • James Scott, J.C., Promotor, Externe Persoon
Datum van toekenning04 dec. 2010
Plaats van publicatien/a
StatusGepubliceerd - 2010


Duik in de onderzoeksthema's van 'The Autonomous Life?: Paradoxes of Hierarchy, Authority, and Urban Identity in the Squatters Movement in Amsterdam'. Samen vormen ze een unieke vingerafdruk.

Citeer dit