Indignation as dissent? The affective components of protest and democracy

  • Emmy Eklundh

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis discusses the Indignados movement, which arose in Spain in 2011, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It makes the observation that the Indignados, and many other movements similar to it (like Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, or the Global Justice Movement), gather large amounts of people, but are still struggling to be recognised as political subjects, as influential forces in the political environment. Many times, they are criticised for being too dispersed or too emotional, and lacking the cohesiveness to formulate concrete political aims. The Indignados can therefore be seen as challenging democracy and how political subjectivity is accorded, both in theory and practice. This leads this thesis to inquire into some of the theoretical underpinnings of democracy, and in particular political subjectivity. Its main research question is therefore: Can the Indignados spur a new reading of democracy?To further understand how we can conceive of the political subjectivity of an emotional and dispersed protest movement, this thesis turns to two approaches, social movement theory as well as deliberative democratic theory. After having examined extant literature on the matter, the thesis concludes that both of these approaches employ a distinct separation between emotion and reason, where political subjectivity is almost always hinged upon the latter. In addition, affect is seen as disjointed from signification, and therefore from political articulation. In order to circumvent this theoretical stalemate, this thesis turns to theories of radical democracy, and more specifically to the works of Ernesto Laclau. It argues that Laclau's juxtaposition of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Derridian deconstruction opens up possibilities for a form of political subjectivity based on affect instead of reason alone. As such, Laclau's theory of hegemony can shed light on those instances where affect and emotions play a central part in the creation of political subjectivity.In analysing Laclau's theory, I respond to different analytical challenges that question the viability of explaining movements such as the Indignados through a theory of hegemony. Current observations point to that contemporary movements are not hegemonic (which place too much emphasis on verticality), but rather horizontal and networked. In order to address this critique, this thesis constructs a framework of the hegemonic project. This framework emphasises two commonly overlooked features of Laclau's theory: the affective and transient nature of hegemony, which stresses the connection between affect and signification. Through two sets of empirical data - ethnographic fieldwork material and social media analysis - the thesis shows how the Indignados exhibit clear instances of verticality, albeit of an affective nature. This hegemonic, affective verticality speaks of two ways in which the movement can construct political subjectivity: viscerally (through unity in affective practices) and virtually (through social media).
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Lawler (Supervisor) & Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet (Supervisor)


  • Ethnography
  • Affect
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Spanish politics
  • Social theory
  • Radical demoracy
  • Ernesto Laclau
  • Social media
  • Social movements
  • Protest
  • Democracy
  • Emotions

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