New article – “Go get a job right after you take a bath”: Occupy Wall Street as Matter Out of Place

Bolton, M., S. Froese, and A. Jeffrey (2016). ““Go get a job right after you take a bath”: Occupy Wall Street as Matter Out of Place.” Antipode, DOI: 10.1111/anti.12226

I’m pleased to say that a new article co-written with political scientist Matthew Bolton and architect Stephen Froese has just been published on line by the journal Antipode. The paper interrogates the ways in which urban protest (in this case Occupy Wall Street) is equated with dirt and impurity, or ‘matter out of place’ in Mary Douglas’s classic interpretation.The paper’s title comes from an admonishment to the protesters made by Newt Gingrich, readily fusing dirt with indolence (and conversely purity with productivity). But the focus of the paper moves beyond a deconstruction of official interpretations of the Occupy movement to explore how interpretations of dirt went on to shape the organisation and subsequent actions of the protesters, both within and beyond the events at Zucotti Park. This wider set of concerns prompts the question of whether resistance to the enclosure of urban public space may require a re-interpretation of what is clean and what is dirty.

The paper emerges from a longer set of collaborations both with Matthew Bolton (we first met back in the Bosnian town of Brcko in 2002 when I was conducting PhD fieldwork and he was working for a humanitarian organisation, we have co-authored a paper exploring the issues of NGO regulation and governance that we both experienced) while the interest in urban protest stems from Matthew and Stephen’s participation in Occupy and my subsequent involvement in an edited collection (Occupying Political Science) that gathers together a series of scholarly interpretations of the Occupy movements.

Here’s the abstract to the Antipode paper: Anthropological studies of purity reveal how notions of cleanliness influence political and social life. During its 2011 Zuccotti Park occupation in Lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) contested spatial and symbolic manifestations of neoliberalism by re-inserting Otherness into sanitized and privatized space. But the demonstration provoked reactions from politicians and news media that entwined discourses of cleanliness and productivity (such as Newt Gingrich’s riposte to the protestors: “Go get a job right after you take a bath”). This ethnographic study argues that such representations had spatial and political effects. In particular, our account illuminates the plural agency of Occupiers, where resistance to depictions of dirt and idleness existed alongside the use of such discourses to discipline each other. We trace a discursive legacy of these events as notions of productivity and cleanliness have circulated within activist responses to 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and the 2014 Flood Wall Street mobilization.


Alex Jeffrey, March 2016

Photo credit © Matthew Bolton 2014


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