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Presentation
“The People are the City”: the “Mob” and the Body Politic from Coriolanus to Occupy Wall Street.
Thinking the Political: The Work of Ernesto Laclau (2013)
  • Benjamin Bertram, University of Southern Maine
Abstract
The social protest movements around the world in 2011-2012 made it clear that the work of Ernesto Laclau is more important than ever. This essay puts Laclau’s writing on collective identities, especially On Populist Reason (2005), to work as a means of understanding the Occupy Wall Street movement. In addition to the OWS movement, I discuss the crowd scenes in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011), a film based on Shakespeare’s late tragedy (1608) with the same title. Guided by Laclau’s rhetorical and psychoanalytic analysis of populism as a “political logic,” I argue that our own movements, including OWS, can learn from Shakespeare's metonymic/synecdochic conception of politics, a conception exemplified in the citizens’ mantra, “the people are the city.” Some participants in OWS pursue what Laclau calls a “hegemonic totalization” while others champion a more “rhizomatic,” pluralistic, or even apolitical approach. My essay will show how concepts from Laclau’s work (partial embodiments, points de capiton, objet petit a, equivalence, etc.) might be used as tools for pushing OWS in the populist direction some— but by no means all— of its participants have in mind. The invocation of Coriolanus, whose collective identity formation might be seen as atavistic when contrasted with that of OWS, is intended to call attention to the way an older corporeal and metonymic language of politics (“the body politic”) still offers helpful lessons for the present as we consider what Judith Butler, a participant in OWS, refers to as “a politics of the public body.”
Keywords
  • Ernesto Laclau,
  • Social Protest Movements
Disciplines
Publication Date
April, 2013
Citation Information
Benjamin Bertram. "“The People are the City”: the “Mob” and the Body Politic from Coriolanus to Occupy Wall Street." Thinking the Political: The Work of Ernesto Laclau (2013)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/benjamin_bertram/9/