Politics of Dissent

by Martin Bak Jørgensen (Volume editor) Óscar García Agustín (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 231 Pages
Series: Political and Social Change, Volume 1


There are alternatives to neoliberal market economies: basic income, the money of the common and degrowth. This study highlights the potential of dissent from the initial questioning of the dominant system to the creation of new political agendas. It discusses the multiple manifestations of dissent and their contributions to shaping political alternatives; it also takes a closer look at organizations and the challenge they face trying to establish forms of resistance. The struggles of current social movements in Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria, Spain and the US exemplify practices of dissent.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface and Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • The Politics of Dissent
  • Part I. Organisation
  • The Postmodern Prince: The Political Articulation of Social Dissent
  • Current Western Reactions to Mass Surveillance: Movement or Just Protests?
  • Part II. Movements
  • The Dance of the Fireflies in Brazil
  • Social Movements in Turkey: Changing Dynamics since 1968
  • Manual Transmission: The Do-It-Yourself Theory of Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s 15M
  • Occupy Nigeria: Paradigm Shift in Mass Resistance
  • Part III. Alternatives
  • Commonwealth, Commonfare and the Money of Common: The Challenge to Fight Life Subsumption
  • Creating a Network of Dissent – The Heretical Idea of Basic Income
  • No Future - Degrowth as Dissent in the Wealth Society
  • Nine Theses on Dissent
  • Notes on Editors and Contributors

← 10 | 11 → Martin Bak Jørgensen & Óscar García Agustín

The Politics of Dissent


In Politics of Dissent the framework for analysing politics of dissent is outlined. The outlined framework problematizes the conventional understandings of dissent as something characterising individual historical figures. The chapter provides both a theoretical underpinning of dissent as well as an approach to investigate the current contestations taking place on a global level. Politics of dissent entails the questioning of consensus. It conceptualises dissent as a collective process taking place on everyday level. It conceptualises moments of dissent. Finally it investigates the emergent institutions of dissent. That is the creation of new institutions or the renewal of the existing ones.

Starting with no

John Holloway (2005: 1) takes negativity as the starting point (NO as a scream of refusal) in his very stimulating book, Change the World without taking Power, which aims to open up a new way of constructing a Left project, through a new language and mentality. According to Holloway, “We start from negation, from dissonance. […] Our dissonance comes from our experience, but that experience varies”. The rejection of the world we feel to be wrong, and not only fragmented or isolated experiences, would be the first necessary step towards changing the world. We would also start our reflection on dissent and the necessity of politics of dissent by taking ‘no’ as the starting point. In this way, we would aim to show some of the social and political implications of dissent.

In 1983, the Chilean group C.A.D.A. (Colectivo de Acciones De Arte) did a performance called ‘No +’ (see López, 2009). This was staged in response to the commemoration of the ten years of dictatorship. The intervention consisted in offering an open sentence (‘No +’) to be filled in by anonymous peasants who appropiated themselves of it by writing ‘No + death’, ‘No + pain’, ‘No + dictatorship’, etc, and avoided a police order. On walls, canvasses, and posters, the anonymous insurgency against the dictatorial regime spread throughout the country.

Some years later, on the 5 October 1988, a plebiscite was held in Chile in order to decide if dictator Augusto Pinochet should decide if he was to continue eight more years in power or not. The citizens voted against this, and the situation is ← 11 | 12 → re-created in the film ‘No’ by Pablo Larraín, based on the play El Plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta. Despite its unquestionable popular success, the film shows the increasing relevance of advertisement and marketing tecniques to persuade public opinion and, more importantly, the way in which the dictator, but not his political and economic model, was defeated.

When comparing the two cases, some preliminary reflections on dissent can be made. Firstly, it is clear that the opposition, or dissent, against dictatorship was present for a long time, but it took a while before it was publicly articulated and became part of the institutional change. Dissent can be manifested in the public sphere or not, but as a ‘no’, as negation, it is constantly being (re)produced. It is necessary to see the moments of dissent as moments of visibilisation and to assess whether the moments are challenging the existing social order or are adapted to the institutional order. Secondly, the ‘No +’ performance entails a questioning of the political and social orders and the rejection of the oppressive system. The ‘No’ campaign, on the other hand, may be a firm protest against dictatiorship, but it does not reject the neoliberal model within which it is rooted. On the contrary, the model is assumed by the following governments during the transition to democracy. Thirdly, it is important to highlight agency, the actors who undertake political actions. The space opened by the ‘No +’ performance makes it possible for every ordinary citizen to become an active agent of dissent through completing the sentence and rendering the opposition to the system visible. The ‘No’ campaign reflects the appropriation of the means of mediatised politics to persuade people whose participation is basically reduced to the moment of voting. Finally, the role of collectivisation must be emphasised. The ‘No +’ campaign must not be understood as individual (meaning individuals who complete the sentence). Its anonymity, which is necessary to avoid a police order, does not contradict the collectivisation of dissent. All the participants find a way of connecting their experience to a collective struggle. The ‘No’ campaign also has a collective meaning, but due to the fact that participation is only possible through election, a division is created between the leaders of the campaign and the supporters.

Returning to Holloway’s idea about negativity, we now approach the idea of dissent as being based on singular experiences but sharing a common feeling of disagreement and rejection of the existing political order. Therefore, our understanding of dissent refers to social and political questioning (not just to mere critique or a need for palliative reforms), to undoing consensus and rendering excluded actors and struggles visible. It cannot be reduced to individual dissent (within a political organisation or against an unjust system) since it is a collective process seeking alternative conceptions or ways of living. The politics of dissent ← 12 | 13 → assume the relevance of experiences opposed to the dominant order in order to render new actors, struggles and ways of organisation visible.

To present the dimensions of dissent and its politics, we are focusing on the following aspects: the questioning of consensus, everyday dissent, the moments of dissent and the institutions of dissent. Thus, the politics of dissent will move beyond negation and towards constructive and creative processes in order to change the existing order.

The questioning of consensus

In the past few decades, a constant de-ideologisation of the political debate has taken place, as reflected in the electoral goal of gathering left and right wing parties around the centre, the common assumption of the logic of neoliberalism and the unquestioned need for open economies. Politics have developed so as to support processes of de-regulation and privatisation of the public without any opposition being uttered by the social democratic parties which actually fostered the politics whilst they were in power.

This ideological vacuum within the political system has been defined as post-politics. According to Chantal Mouffe, the post-political world is characterised by its emphasis on consensus based on individual interests or in rational agreements. Thus, passions and collective identities are abandoned, and the possibility of antagonism is excluded. This situation leads to a lack of political interest in people and to increasing de-politisation, as showed by abstention in political elections or difficulties of mobilisation. Mouffe (2005: 24-25) explains that “politization cannot exist without the production of a conflictual representation of the world, with opposed camps with which people can identify, thereby allowing for passions to be mobilized politically within the spectrum of the democratic process.”

Dissent becomes essential to democratic processes, and its exclusion or oppression weakens democracy since a plurality of voices would not be included in the decision making, would be left out of the public sphere, and could not contribute to the common good. However, in this regard, we differ from Mouffe’s position in terms of her conception of the relation between conflict (what we call dissent) and institutions. Mouffe is supportive of representative democracy and wants to find a solution in which the conflictual approach must transform the existing institutions profoundly. Indeed, she rejects more radical approaches to deserting from representative democracy and traditional insitutions (Mouffe, 2013).

In our conception, institutional change must be assessed from a broader perspective focused on political and social change. The existence of dissent, and its ← 13 | 14 → potential to undo consensus and render new struggles and actors visible, can lead to different situations; from co-existence with the dominant institutions to their reform or their questioning, followed by the need of creating new institutions. We situate ourselves closer to the opposition between consensus and dissensus as described by Jacques Rancière (2010). In his view, consensus deligitimates what is proper and what is not, and dissensus, on the other hand, unveils the improperty of this division. Dissent, or dissensus according to Ranciére, goes beyond institutional change or relations of power since it allows for the introduction of new subjects that question and disrupt the arbitrary distribution of political participation.

Dissent consists in the expression of oppostional voices and the manifestation of disagreement against the dominant order, but it must be taken into consideration that not all people are included in the political discourses since they are excluded through the politics of consensus. Dissent also consists in giving visibility to disagreement and opening up spaces to do so. Thus, we are looking at ways of producing dissent, from hidden spaces (everyday dissent in disguised forms) to its irruption in public spaces and its potential for institutionalisation.

Everyday dissent

As mentioned above, our conception of dissent is not attached to individuals who represent oppositional values against an unjust system or undemocratic political party behaviour. Our main interest lies in dissent as a collective process. This does not contradict the fact that individuals carry acts of dissent in their everyday lives; they do so by sharing a sense of disagreement against the dominant system. In other words, dissent is not necessarily visible and may not even be articulated, but it reflects social and political questioning from different places which are always socialised and singularised.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Resistance Social movements Social change Capitalism Social struggles
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 231 pp., 1 table, 2 graphs

Biographical notes

Martin Bak Jørgensen (Volume editor) Óscar García Agustín (Volume editor)

Martin Bak Jørgensen and Óscar García Agustín are Associate Professors at the Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University.


Title: Politics of Dissent
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234 pages