A Politics of Community: Identity, Stigma, and Meaning in the Extra-Parliamentary Left
Abstract: The prevalence and character of political action has changed throughout the Global North, as individuals increasingly turn away from more conventional forms of political participation towards more everyday, continuous types of actions. In this study, I conceptualize one form of everyday political action as a politics of community. A politics of community describes a form of purposeful, collective action that individuals engage in in their attempts to challenge, change, or maintain the social organization of society. In a politics of community, individuals form a distinct and recognizable group that attempts to build community spaces, or interactions in which individuals experience a sense of intimacy and feelings of belonging and being at home. One group that engages in a politics of community is the extra-parliamentary left in Sweden. Adopting a theoretical perspective with roots in interactionist thought, this study analyzes the social world of the extra-parliamentary left in southern Sweden. The extra-parliamentary left, a political group with radical left-libertarian principles, is a stigmatized actor within the arena of Swedish politics. Utilizing an ethnographic method, this study focuses not only on how this stigma arises, but also how individuals become and maintain an identity as extra-parliamentary leftists. I show that extra-parliamentary leftists often achieve stigma in interactions with other political actors, allowing the extra-parliamentary left to become a distinct and recognizable community. In these interactions, extra-parliamentary leftists engage in self-stigmatization to achieve not only a radical identity in Swedish politics, but also as a means of pursuing social change. Second, this study shows that individuals only become extra-parliamentary leftists through participation in the activities of the extra-parliamentary left. I demonstrate that individuals often first encounter extra-parliamentary habits in orbiting social worlds and learn to view these habits as desirable only in interaction with significant others. Third, I explore how extra-parliamentary leftists use self-segregation in their attempts to create community spaces, attempting to create interactional patterns removed from the dominant patterns in Swedish society. I demonstrate that these community spaces remain fragile and vulnerable to interruption, and that the extra-parliamentary left must constantly find ways to address these breaches and recreate community spaces or risk disintegration. The dissertation concludes in noting both the inherent contradictions and challenges involved in radical political action as well as the importance of context in understanding radicality. I argue that focusing on routine, everyday action and interaction allows us to better examine and understand how individuals join and recreate groups involved in collective political action. Finally, I argue that studying the accomplishment of collective action, rather than solely its consequences, allows us to not only better understand changing patterns of political behavior but even the power relations and structures at work within our societies.
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