Intellectual Roots of Wall Street Protest Lie in Academe – Faculty – The Chronicle of Higher Education
Academics have become frequent visitors to Zuccotti Park, the 33,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza in the heart of New York City’s financial district that is now the site of a nearly monthlong protest, Occupy Wall Street.
Famous scholars like Cornel West, Slavoj Zizek, and Frances Fox Piven have spoken to the crowd, with their remarks dispersed, word-for-word, from one cluster of people to the next through a “human megaphone.” Many others, such as Lawrence Lessig, have lent their support from farther away, as the demonstrations have spread to cities and college campuses nationwide.
The movement has repeatedly been described as too diffuse and decentralized to accomplish real change, and some observers have seen the appearances by academic luminaries as an attempt to lend the protest intellectual heft and direction. Certainly, its intellectual underpinnings and signature method of operating are easier to identify than its goals.
Economists whose recent works have decried income inequality have informed the movement’s critiques of capitalism. Critical theorists like Michael Hardt, professor of literature at Duke University, and Antonio Negri, former professor of political science at the University of Padua, have anticipated some of the central issues raised by the protests. Most recently, they linked the actions in New York and other American cities to previous demonstrations in Spain, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and in Athens, among other places.
But Occupy Wall Street’s most defining characteristics—its decentralized nature and its intensive process of participatory, consensus-based decision-making—are rooted in other precincts of academe and activism: in the scholarship of anarchism and, specifically, in an ethnography of central Madagascar.