Occupy Wall Street and the Politics of Representation

by Jodi Dean and Jason Jones

Debates over demands, tactics, and the ninety-nine percent have featured prominently in Occupy Wall Street since the movement’s inception. Movement participants argue over whether Occupy should make demands or whether occupation is its own demand. Activists debate whether the movement should pursue a diversity of tactics or explicitly disavow violence. People with varying degrees of involvement in and acceptance of the most significant political development on the left since the anti-globalization protests ask themselves if they are part of the 99% and what it means if they are. Underpinning these debates is the question of representation. What does the movement represent and to whom?

To present the disagreements simultaneously constituting and rupturing Occupy as fundamentally concerned with representation is already to politicize them, to direct them in one way rather than another, for the question of representation has been distorted to the point of becoming virtually impossible to ask. Strong tendencies in the movement reject a politics of representation. Rather than recognizing representation as an unavoidable feature of language, process for forming and aggregating preferences (always open to contestation and revision), or means of producing and expressing a common will, these tendencies construe representation as unavoidably hierarchical, distancing, and repressive (and they think of hierarchy, distance, and repression as negative rather than potentially generative attributes). For them, the strength of Occupy is in its break with representation and its creation of a new politics.

read the article in Chto Delat newspaper #10- 34: In defense of representation >>