Click the star to add/remove an item to/from your individual schedule.
You need to be logged in to avail of this functionality.

Accepted Paper:

Looking for leaders: tactics and agency in the 2015 South African student protests  
Vito Laterza (University of Agder) Ayanda Manqoyi (University of Cape Town)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore the interplay of tactics and agency in the recent South African student protests, in dialogue with classic and contemporary anthropological concepts and theories.

Paper long abstract:

In October 2015, thousands of university students took to the streets across major South African cities to protest against increases in university fees. While the protests did not emerge in a vacuum, small groups who had started demonstrations a few weeks before had rapidly grown in numbers within days, with no central coordination or heavily structured leadership. The demands of protesters were complex and multi-faceted, and could not be easily subsumed under one common manifesto, but an anti-racist decolonisation agenda endorsed by smaller groups of activists gained prominence among the various competing voices.

Based on fieldwork and social media analysis, this paper will explore some of the tactics that protesters and small groups of activists have employed to gather momentum and keep the protests going, while refusing attempts at vertical integration and structured leadership - parallels will be made with Black Lives Matter and Occupy movements.

A key theme is the changing relationship between agency and tactics: if leaderless movements gain momentum by refusing to be "represented", both symbolically and organisationally, what kind of agency are we speaking of when crowds of protesters take to the streets? Who is protesting for what? Do tactics and methods then become the primary focus of ethnography, both empirically and conceptually?

The paper will also ask more general questions concerning the role of agency in classic and contemporary anthropological theory: are we witnessing events and social formations that eschew conventional understandings of agency? If so, how should anthropology reconfigure itself to understand these changes and engage with them?

Panel P014
Tactics as ethnographic and conceptual objects [Network of Ethnographic Theory]
  Session 1