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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Exogenous shock

Before the Occupy movement is discussed in detail, the conditions under which it emerged need to be outlined. I would argue that Occupy is the latest development of the politics of anti-neoliberalism. Neoliberal corporate and government policy and practices have included efficiency measures which have impacted negatively on workers of the western world. These measures include flexible working patterns, outsourcing and a curtailment of union power. Thus the Occupy protests are a culmination of grievances that have spread to a wider populace and the next generation of would-be activists: those who were not old enough to take part in Seattle, or who perhaps have never heard of the Zapatistas but have experienced increasing job insecurity, rising debt and rising costs of public goods, particularly in higher education in the western world. Moreover, Occupy represents a crisis of doxa because the meritocratic values which supposedly underpin neoliberalism have been exposed as false.

The catalyst for the emergence of the Occupy movement was the financial shock of 2008. In many industries, organizations have for some time focused on cutting costs, largely through installing a range of policies such as flexible working conditions, employing temporary and or seasonal staff, and introducing new technology. The financial crisis of 2008-9 gave organizations and governments the justification to continue these measures.

There have been some real effects of the financial shock outlined by Standing (2011: 49): in the UK 'during the first year of the recession full-time jobs plummeted by over 65,000, part-time jobs rose by 80,000, with 280,000 part-timers saying they could not obtain full-time jobs'. According to the BBC, in 2011 the unemployment rate in the UK was at 20 per cent. More significantly, the Occupy movement in the UK emerged in October 2011, after 'unemployment had increased by 129,000 between June and September (2011) to 2.62 million' (BBC, 2011).

The BBC also found that unemployment for:

16 to 24-year-olds hit a record of 1.02 million in the quarter and female unemployment was at its highest for 23 years. Figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the jobless rate hit 8.3%. The number of people out of work and claiming Jobseeker's Allowance rose by 5,300 to 1.6 million in October 2011. The unemployment rate of 8.3% is the highest since 1996 and the total number of unemployed people the highest since 1994. The number of women out of work increased by 43,000 to 1.09 million, the highest level since February 1988. (BBC, 2011)

Although the Spanish situation was much worse than that in the UK, there are parallels to be drawn. Two months before the

Indignados' camp-outs (circa March 2011), the Guardian newspaper reported that 'Spain's youth unemployment was at 43%, the highest in the EU. This was more than double the average. In addition, for those aged 16 to 19 the rate is 64% - an 11% increase on the previous year' (Guardian, 2011). The Guardian also reported that:

one in five of those under the age of 30 are still looking for their first job. Unemployment is not the only issue because even of those that have work, almost half (46%) are on short-term contracts of less than 6 months. (Guardian, 2011)

When the recession hit the USA, firms cut costs by introducing technological changes, outsourcing working and cutting long-term employees. A survey in 2010 concluded that at least a quarter of the 8.4 million jobs eliminated in the US recession would not return (Izzo, 2010, cited by Standing, 2011: 49).

In terms of fields, the shock was exogenous to the political field since it came from the economic field. More to the point, the inability of certain countries' governments to deal with the shock and secure financial well-being for citizens raised neoliberal doxa to the level of discourse. That is, the political system came under pressure from citizens, whose expectations were out of alignment with the economic and political realities of neoliberalism; who perhaps, until 2008, had not experienced unemployment or threats of redundancy or even losing one's home. Rising unemployment, the loss of secure employment, and increase in precariousness are effects of the financial crisis. The financial field, a sub-field of the larger economic field (where the shock took place), is interconnected and interdependent with the political field and all other sub-fields of it. As Fligstein and McAdam have argued, such shocks:

are like a stone thrown in a still pond, sending ripples outward to all proximate fields. This does not mean that all or even most of the ripples will destabilize other fields. Like stones, changes come in all sizes. Only the most dramatic are apt to send ripples of sufficient intensity as to pose a real threat to the stability of proximate fields. (2011: 9)

Thus the shock from the financial sub-field rippled through to the wider economic and political fields causing a crisis of doxa. This crisis manifested itself in the form of the Occupy movement, which questioned the financial practices and the resulting mismanagement of the economy, along with the way in which democratically elected politicians had allowed this to happen and were doing very little to resolve the situation and or bring those responsible to account. Furthermore, there was a demand to bring more regulation to the financial sector to stop this type of mismanagement happening again.

The Occupy movement, however, is an expression of deep discontentment; in fact, protest of this type is the pinnacle when it comes to expressing dissatisfaction. It is when political contention makes itself known and visible. It was a veritable episode of contention: 'defined as a period of emergent, sustained contentious interaction between [field] actors utilizing new and innovative forms of action vis-a-vis one another' (McAdam, 2003, cited by Fligstein and McAdam, 2011: 9). The new and innovative methods of protest included Facebook and Twitter, especially the famous #Occupy launched by the hack- tivist Anonymous collective. These methods facilitated the quick dissemination of important information. Activists and citizens were updated almost instantly about events from around the world.

In terms of qualifying as contention, Occupy also fits into Fligstein and McAdam's (2011) other criteria. These include a shared sense of uncertainty/crisis regarding the rules and power relations governing the field, and sustained mobilization by incumbents and challengers (2011: 9). First, the political field had shown a lack of control over the financial sub-field. For many years the sub-field had been deregulated and elected politicians had been unwilling to control it because neoliberal ideology promotes a hands-off approach, since regulation is seen as stifling profit. As such, citizens who became activists entered the political field through the Occupy movement to challenge the situation. Second, we witnessed challengers constantly emerging to demand change. Of course the incumbents, politicians and financiers, use their resources to thwart them through state agencies such as the police and courts and so on.

I now discuss first, the Indignados movement as the harbinger of Occupy, then I turn to the Occupy movement and explain when and where it emerged, and how it represented a crisis of doxa, albeit a brief one.

 
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