The Inappropriable People of Gezi: Refusal, Protest, Desire

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At a time that direct action ever more effectively mediates political experience across the world, this dissertation, The Inappropriable People of Gezi: Refusal, Protest, Desire, offers insights into the empowering and transformative qualities of protest. It builds on works in contemporary and continental political theory, including Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, Giorgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Rancière, and takes the 2013 Gezi Protests of Turkey as its case to engage with questions of peoplehood, refusal, and power in popular mobilization. Working from the empirical particulars of Turkish mobilizational politics to political theory, I argue that protest presents not only a challenge to a ruling authority’s sovereign claims to represent “the people,” but also a non-sovereign force that refuses to react to power in power’s own terms. Thus, unlike contemporary accounts, which confine protest activity to a question of identification with the popular subject and thereby mirror the political authority from below, this project develops “a politics of refusal” that evades seductions of sovereignty. I articulate such politics by investigating how the Gezi protestors unsettled a set of statist binaries, including “the people” and its “other,” epistemologies of sense and non-sense, civil and uncivil resistance, and the means and ends of action. Treating political practices and cultural artifacts from Gezi as texts of political theory in their own right, my account perceives protest as a meaning-making enterprise transforming the spaces of judgement and action within which broader publics understand and engage politics. Experimentations with new forms of thought, speech, and action in protest, I claim, generate a “collective desire” that constitutes protestors as a people. A ‘desiring people’ constituted in and through mobilization is different from a ‘sovereign people’ that can be claimed and appropriated by governmental authorities by virtue of their electoral mandate. Not reducible to an object of identification over which competing parties engage in hegemonic contestations, a people generated by a collective desire is inappropriable. It can only be experienced and enjoyed in practice, via collective action. This dissertation thus theorizes an “inappropriable people” as both a shared collective desire and in relation to reconfigurative praxes of refusal.
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252 pages
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desire; Gezi; populism; protest; refusal; the people
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Frank, Jill
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Livingston, Alexander
Frank, Jason
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Ph. D., Government
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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