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Towards an adventurous institutional politics: The prefigurative ‘as if’ and the reposing of what’s real

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-916
Number of pages24
JournalSOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
Volume68
Issue number5
Early online date6 Apr 2020
DOIs
Accepted/In press23 Jan 2020
E-pub ahead of print6 Apr 2020
Published1 Sep 2020

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Abstract

Discussion of prefigurative politics typically focuses on the revisioning of means to ends within grass-roots activities taking shape against or apart from the state. This article takes a different approach. Addressing prefiguration through the terms of the ‘as if’, it explores the assertion of counterhegemonic meanings, facts, norms and authority both by and about institutions, including state ones. Through four contentious acts: municipal expressions of international solidarity; legislating new gender categories; role-playing micro-states and new money; and acting like a law reform commission, the article considers what prefiguration, and reading for prefiguration, can contribute to a progressive transformative politics. While rehearsing, anticipating and representing alternatives are important, well-recognised prefigurative attributes, this article also addresses less explored dimensions. Specifically, it considers how institutional prefiguration retroactively constitutes its conditions of legitimacy and authority, its depiction as fiction, the performative constraints it faces from diffuse and unequal circuits of power, and the work done by recognition (and non-recognition) of new facts, rules and norms. Together, these dimensions speak to the complicated and plural character of what is real when institutions are enacted as if they were otherwise. This quality of being both real and not real, in conditions of wider opposition, support and torpidity, constitutes the crux of prefiguration’s efforts and promise.

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