Authored by: Marianne Maeckelbergh

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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This entry explores the history and recent rise to popularity of the term ‘prefiguration’ within social movement theory and practice. It traces the history of contemporary forms of prefiguration back to a shift in social movement praxis in the 1960s away from linear, programmatic, unitary theories of social change, as embodied in the modernist paradigms of communism and developmental progressivism, towards more experimental and open practices of social change. The entry follows the emergence of prefiguration from practices of ‘participatory democracy’ within the 1960s and 1970s movements to the emphasis on ‘horizontal politics’ within the alterglobalization movement of the 2000s and finally the Occupy movements of the 2010s to explore the close relationship between prefigurative politics and the radical shifts in democratic theory and practice that occur within movements when large groups of unaffiliated citizens come together in public space(s) to effect social change. The various definitions, approaches and interpretations of the strategic value of prefiguration as a practice of social change will be discussed through an exploration of both the growing body of literature dedicated to this concept as well as concrete examples of how prefiguration works in practice across multiple contexts and decades of movement organising. The entry ends with a survey of recent literature that places prefiguration in relation to practices of representation, capitalism, the state and the success/failure approach to understanding social movement practices.

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