We see a new type of disruption emerge to challenge the neoliberal European Union during the post-2008 period – the pragmatic prefigurative worker.
One of the key sentiments that prompted the emergence and development of a pragmatically prefigurative subjectivity is a feeling of disaffection and disappointment regarding the degree to which key institutions, that might otherwise be expected to represent the demands and interests of those experiencing hardship, have been unable to perform such a role. In particular, established parties of the left and the trade unions have proved largely ineffective as institutions through which to carry out what is normally considered to be their role of protecting the working class.
Radical prefigurativism as the method of voice and refusal: occupations, assemblies, and negative publicity in the age of social media
It is alongside this growing disaffection that we can understand the decisions by a number of those engaging in disruptive forms of dissent, to adopt what we might consider to be a range of more radical forms of collective action. This includes occupations, the formation of workplace assemblies, and the widespread use of social media to spread the message and publicise the negative actions of target firms and the government.
Lesson learning and lesson sharing
Pragmatic prefigurative action has developed over time, partly through a process of lesson learning and lesson sharing that spans across and between many of these discrete events. Public square occupations and the occupations of buildings and factories have all enabled a coming together of different disruptive activists, thereby facilitating this process of lesson learning and sharing.
The pragmatic and ambivalent return to the institutions
One of the consequences of the pragmatic nature of the turn towards prefigurative strategies, has been the preparedness to re-connect with, and at times re-enter, those institutions which were initially the subject of such disaffection. This can be seen, for instance, with the success of Podemos, Barcelona en Comu, and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. This is perhaps surprising, given the earlier hostility to those same institutions – and which in many instances prompted the move towards pragmatic prefigurative action. Yet, the pragmatic adoption of prefigurativism ensured that the degree of antipathy towards institutions of representative democracy was more practical than principled; ensuring that once political opportunities opened up they would be taken up. As such, social movements were able to act as a breeding ground for attempts to open up or dissolve the hardened institutions of the state, in order to secure their responsiveness to the demands of the respective populations.
At the same time, however, we should also note the cautious nature of this re-connection with formal institutions. A wariness towards those established institutions remains.
This new form of pragmatic prefigurative action has resulted in both a new politicisation of everyday life and a disruption of established practices within the formal institutions of democracies. Assemblies and occupations have constituted spaces in which new alliances and solidarities have been forged and a convergence across social movements has been able to take places. These new forms of protest have thereby disrupted everyday forms of neoliberal governmentality. Where political and economic elites have sought to insist that social problems are the result of personal failings, which should be the subject of individualised feelings of guilt, and which cannot anyway be resolved through political activity as “there is no alternative”; the actions of pragmatically prefigurative workers has successfully disrupted such a narrative, and prevented the (re-)consolidation of the neoliberal European Union.