Çigdem Çidam, “In the Street: Democratic Action, Theatricality, and Political Friendship” (Oxford UP, 2021)

Çigdem Çidam, Associate Professor of Political Science at Union College, has a new book titled In the Street: Democratic Action, Theatricality, and Political Friendship (Oxford UP, 2021) that examines political action by citizens, and how we interpret and discuss that action in context of political structures. The title In the Street is a reference to the seminal French poster from May of 1968 that read “beauty is in the street,” and was adapted by the demonstrators in Turkey decades later, providing one of the many examples of street politics that illustrate the discussion of activism throughout the book. Street politics has many forms, such as protests, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Often such actions are confined to the binary analysis of successes and failures, only examining how likely an action is to bring about change. The origins of this understanding stem from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion of popular sovereignty, rejection of theatricality, and the idealization of immediacy. Çidam argues that this Rousseauian framework dilutes the value of these actions, forcing them into a reductive duality and failing to acknowledge that movements can fail simply because of the class positions their members are forced to assume. Regardless of their failures, there is an inherent and aesthetic value to these political actions that can last beyond the actions themselves.

Çidam’s alternative framework, developed through dissecting the viewpoints of political theorists Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Antonio Negri, Jurgen Habermas, and Jacques Ranciere, redefines our understanding of the value of political action. In The Street: Democratic Action, Theatricality, and Political Friendship provides new perspectives and understandings of events like Occupy Wall Street, the Gezi uprising in Turkey, and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Çidam explains that “intermediating practices” are opportunities for encounter and engagement among those who are involved in these street actions. This concept is applied to the ways that individuals might find unity with each other within these political actions. Through intermediating practices, individuals become “political friends,” an Aristotelian concept that builds a relationship of unity and equity between people despite their differences as a result of their shared experiences of political action. These concepts must lead us to the conclusion that the driving forces of political action—anger, rage, joy—cannot be reduced to the binary of either success or failure, as Rousseau would have it. In The Streets re-centers the on-the-ground efforts of individuals, focusing on these communal actions rather than their particular outcomes. Çidam concludes that while these moments of political friendship are fleeting, their transience does not denote failure because the rich and creative practices of political actors are naturally valuable. Tune in to hear about Çigdem Çidam’s interpretations of Negri’s, Habermas’, and Ranciere’s unique political conceptions, how a focus on political friendship in the Gezi protests of 2013 helped to formulate her theoretical lenses for this analysis, and how remembrance of these movements can help us struggle against the powers that be for the next historical moment.

Emma R. Handschke assisted in the production of this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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