Accepted paper:

Nomads of the South: transformations of home and self through the Occupy movement of Austin, Texas


Mei-Li Nieuwland (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Faced with unprecedented levels of underemployment and other harsh realities of post-crisis life out of school, young adults in America are coming to terms with what seems to be an inflated American Dream. This thesis examines this process among participants of the Occupy movement of Austin, Texas.

Paper long abstract:

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, protest movements largely supported by disaffected youth swept across the world, prominent among these the American-born Occupy movement. This research examines the perceptions and influences of post-crisis America among young adults in the Occupy movement of Austin, Texas. I argue that the movement, rather than a vehicle for societal change, is primarily used by young Austinians as a tool for personal transformation. Disillusioned by the promises of capitalism and the American dream, they seek to re-imagine themselves by recreating the world around them according to individually constructed ideas of authenticity and morality. Here, the desire for authenticity comes to mean a drive towards independence and self-governance, an interpretation typical of the historically anti-governmental Texan imagination. I show that the contemporary versions of these sentiments are informed by the perceived effects of a global economical crisis as a political and systemic failure. The resulting searches for autonomy are further encouraged by the spatiality of the South, in which space and place encapsulate simultaneously potentials for alienation and displacement as well as for authenticity and belonging through localization. Participation in Occupy, then, is about taking an uncompromising stance towards personally identified sources of alienation and setting out to "find a place" in both existential and spatial ways. I propose that this search for authenticity can be considered a kind of existential nomadism: a search for home shaped by the complex interplay between social, political, and spatial dimensions of life in the Southern United States.

panel G25
Missing out on manifest destiny: anthropology on the periphery of the American dream