University of Leicester
2021DeschnerCJPhD.pdf (1.72 MB)

Performative prefigurations of post-capitalist autonomy in social movement organising: Vulnerability and social reproduction in the German Autonomen Movement

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posted on 2021-12-01, 12:12 authored by Claire J. Deschner
This thesis explores the prefiguration of post-capitalist autonomies in social movement organising on the example of the German Autonomen Movement. I understand prefiguration, the effort to bring about new realities, as critically performative practise through the philosophy of embodied performativity by Judith Butler. The search for post-capitalist possibilities was a search for autonomies based on mutual survival; for autonomies not based on the undermining of other people’s autonomy but based on cooperation and mutuality. Using performance activist ethnography and participative theatre workshops I explored what meanings performances of autonomy in the Autonomen Movement carried. Fieldwork showed that individual performances of autonomy partly mirrored the performative pressures of neoliberalism and hegemonic masculinity, not only in their content – to be smart, social and strong - but also in their inability to discuss failure. Collectively however the Autonomen have managed to form an infrastructure that enables different prefigurations of post-capitalist autonomy. Here autonomy is prefigured as collective production. I explore this infrastructure through the Autonomous Marxist concept of commoning and define autonomy as the ability to determine the conditions of one’s own making and survival. Based on Butler I argue that these conditions for survival are inherently collectively produced. Keeping in mind feminist social reproduction theory I also argue that post-capitalist attempts of autonomy need to find ways to recognise the multiplicity of contributions that build these conditions despite the historical misrecognition of different forms of labour. This thesis ends with the role of vulnerability in Autonomous organising. Ontological vulnerability as the ability to affect and be affected provides the necessary point of connection to break with individualised notions of autonomy. Autonomous organising can use vulnerability for prefiguration by providing careful group structures that provide the conditions to break with established realities and deal with failure.



Christopher Land; Keir Milburn

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Business

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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