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The Rule of Spontaneity

Rachel Sim

Cairo, Egypt
New York, USA
Berlin, Germany

2022

MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies (MAUS)

Categories

Insurgency

Across the world’s most chronicled protests of 2011, including Cairo’s January 25 Revolution, Madrid’s 15-M/Indignados Movement, and New York’s Occupy Wall Street, protest marches and protest camps - assemblages of bodies and tents - appeared to have sprung up overnight. Many accounts offered by activists have debunked the notion that the encampments in these locales were pre-planned entities, while others appear to suggest a form of organized spontaneity; a structural knowledge of navigating the urban environment in a manner that results in chaos.

Further, these accounts suggest that protest events are influenced and constituted by the physical and symbolic characteristics of the city, against which protest events manifest; and the virtual mechanisms of the Internet, which protesters crucially hinge on to mobilize people. These processes, along with the overarching dialectic of spontaneity and organization, have been relatively understudied by new social movement theorists. This dissertation thus aims to shed light on this dialectic, arguing that protest events are underscored by an order, or rule of spontaneity. Taking the protest movements of 2011 as case studies, it explores the urban and virtual patterns of spontaneous struggle, contributing to a more holistic understanding of protest events.