Concentración de "indignados" en la Plaza Mayor de Palencia, Spain, Credit: Montgomery (Wikimedia Commons), 2011

Making of the Indignant Citizen: Politics, Aesthetics, and Housing Rights in Madrid and Rome

By Andreea S. Micu

The first time I participated in the obstruction of an eviction, I entered the crowd with unsteady steps. Alongside activists of Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)[1], I was standing on the street in the peak of summer of 2013 in Madrid to support Marisa, a woman in her 60s who was unable work due to a medical condition and had not been able to pay her rent for months. Unsure of what exactly I was supposed to do at such an “obstruction”, I candidly asked a woman standing next to me. She explained that we were waiting for the court’s order of eviction, usually brought by a court-ordered committee, escorted by the police. Upon delivery of this document, Marisa would have to leave the apartment immediately. However, because the PAH’s lawyers had previously appealed this order, the court-ordered committee could just as well be on their way to communicate that the eviction had been indefinitely postponed.

-What if it hasn’t been postponed? –I asked, already expecting the answer to make me uneasy.

-Well –she said– then the police come and things get tense, because they are armed, and they try to provoke us. We need to stand together in front of the door and not move until they drag us, one by one. They usually start pushing us. Sometimes they push an elderly person or a child, and then people get angry and the fight starts. They’re always looking for excuses to beat us or arrest us, but it doesn’t matter, because we are right.

My interlocutor’s stance, and that of many participants in the housing activist movements currently taking place in Spain and Italy in the context of the European economic crisis, is a stance of outrage and moral righteousness in the face of precarious economic conditions and unresponsive political administrations.

This article examines the work of Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca in Madrid and Lotta per la Casa movements[2] in Rome through a performance studies and affect theory lens. I use the term “indignant performances” to define the actions of these groups, as they intervene politically in the public sphere. When shifting political economic conditions saturate the everyday, they impose a sense of estrangement, forcing citizens to reconsider their individual and collective political alignments. Indignant performances are expressed in at least two ways: first, as the affect produced when individual bodies come into contact with processes of capital accumulation that have a negative impact on their everyday life; and second, as the collective enterprise in which political subjects reject the capitalist promise of upward mobility and economic stability, and take this rejection to the public sphere, transforming affect into action with political purpose. Indignant performances are manifestations of shifting political economic landscapes specific to late capitalist processes of retreat of the state from economic affairs and advancement of market economies that have left large sectors of population in a state of precarity in Spain and Italy. In the work of activists organizing around housing issues, this process opens up new political possibilities as citizens come together to resist and reconfigure the urban space against the grid of the neoliberal city.

While responding to different social, political, and legal contexts, these two housing rights movements present similarities that allow us to speculate about how the current European economic crisis has fueled the emergence of activist projects animated by a sense of moral outrage or indignation against existing regimes of capital accumulation. Spanish and Italian housing activists currently engage in the obstruction of home evictions and mortgage foreclosures, provide free legal counseling to people affected by housing issues, raise awareness and popular support to change existing legislation about housing, and organize occupations of empty buildings. Drawing from the voices of housing activists and my own ethnographic experiences at their public gatherings and in the obstruction of home evictions in Madrid and Rome, I discuss examples of indignant performances that not only mobilize debates about housing rights, economic justice, and democratic participation, but also rehearse forms of behavior that are potentially revolutionary in their struggle for economic justice. In doing so, these organizations also provide an embodied political pedagogy that helps their participants make sense of current political-economic processes happening at the local, national, and European level, and position themselves in relation to these processes. In this way, indignant performances mediate notions of belonging, citizenship and political participation.

Performance studies as methodology circumvents the need to equate efficacy with effects when studying political interventions. Such a methodology places the political efficacy of performance in the possibilities that performance opens affectively, whether that implies examining our subject positioning within the existing neoliberal economic order or just finding new ways of being together collectively. In performance studies scholar Dwight Conquergood’s terms, all performances “remain at mirror distance from ongoing social processes and are important monitoring mechanisms, scanning devices whereby a people can interpret themselves to themselves as well as to others”[3]. Performance, therefore, becomes the lens to understand broader social and historical processes. In the work of housing activists in Rome and Madrid, I define performance as all human symbolic behavior and communicative action employed to express collective ownership and to obtain social justice; performance cuts across everyday behavior and heightened aesthetic forms.

The political economy of indignation

This essay is the result of nine months of fieldwork in Madrid and Rome between 2013 and 2014, during which time I engaged in deep-immersion ethnography of activist networks working on housing rights[4]. My interlocutors in the field hailed from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, although the majority of them were part of the working class or lower middle class;[5] from public employees affected by drastic wage cuts, retirees, and long-term unemployed people to college students. They had a wide range of previous political or activist experience but most shared the experience of downward class mobility in the previous few years. The aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent enforcement of austerity policies shaped their personal engagement with political organizing. The majority of people affected by evictions and foreclosures were low-income families with children, and single mothers, many of them first and second-generation immigrants[6].

Housing activist movements are but one example of the many grassroots initiatives that have either emerged or gained renewed vitality and support as a result of the austerity measures following the 2008 economic crisis in Southern European countries.[7] The word most commonly used to describe the affective predisposition not only of participants in these movements but also of these societies in general is “indignation”[8]. From social media to daily conversations, Southern Europeans everywhere express their individual and collective grievances as a result of the perceived degradation of democracy, the existing symbiosis between European governments and finance capital, and the power imbalances amongst EU member states. Indignation is the current epoch’s cultural affect, one that collects popular reactions to shifting political economic landscapes based on the retreat of the state from economic affairs and the consolidation of neoliberal economies in Southern Europe. In this regard, it is a negative affective reorientation towards circumstances, objects, economic elites, and politicians. Never fully defined or explained and yet culturally specific, the nature of indignation is both understood by all those who share it and experienced differently alongside class, gender, ethnic, and geographical markers. As a particular historical affect, this socially shared predisposition begs us to interrogate how indignant bodies mobilize and how they create political projects that oppose neoliberalism[9]. I propose the term indignant performances as an umbrella term that can account for the multiple and diverse forms in which housing activists in Spain and Italy act against current political economic circumstances, whether through direct political action, aesthetic means, or the voicing of dissent in everyday life.

Affect is that which “saturates the corporeal, intimate, and political performances of adjustment that make a shared atmosphere something palpable.”[10] The historical circulation of indignation as a collective affect, an individual and social claim, and a political impulse can only be understood in the political and economic context of the current disassembling of the welfare state in European countries. After all, one does not become indignant unless she feels that something to which she was entitled has been taken away from her. Indignation is not begging, is not asking, and is not irrational rage. In the context of the European economic crisis, this affective reorientation is experienced by individuals who understood themselves as subjects of rights and who find themselves suddenly deprived of those rights. If austerity policies entail a promise of return, through sacrifice, to the state of the economy existing prior to the crisis, indignant performances manifest the failure of this promise and the radical potential of forms of economic justice that are yet to come.

What might an examination of affects as collective political manifestations offer for the study of social movements? How do we take into account how macroeconomic processes are felt in everyday life and eventually transformed into specific activist projects? How are socially circulated forms of feeling related to political projects and to the perceived (im)possibilities of a revolutionary change? And, finally, what methodologies could cultural critics could offer to explore these questions? If widespread social indignation and the proliferation of grassroots activism are connected, the study of affect as performative intervention in the political sphere is crucial. Such a project rejects a teleological perspective of affect as essentially radical, but it does acknowledge its capacity to be such. Indignant performative interventions contain both the possibility of radical social change and that of regressive nostalgia for a capitalist political formation that is now increasingly unsustainable, such as the welfare state[11]. What a focus on affect allows is the study of social events as ongoing processes rather than fixed objects. Because affects contain a virtual dimension, they can be both actualized in particular behaviors and exceed its actualization. It is within these parameters of both virtual and actual that the political possibilities of collective affects reside.

The interdisciplinary body of literature in affect theory understands affect as a matter of circulation between bodies, whether human or non-human; affect is the capacity to affect bodies and be affected by them[12]. By privileging circulation and movement, affect theory destabilizes a definition of the subject as a clearly delimited entity;[13] a body in movement is a body that transcends being by experiencing a constant process of becoming. It is this process of becoming that places bodies within the political dimension.[14]

In the last decade, scholars have addressed the relationship between the political economic formation that we call “late capitalism” and the place of affect within it. While heightened forms of affect circulation are essential to existing forms of capital accumulation[15], there are also affective contingencies that might become forms of politics that escape capitalist co-optation. Sara Ahmed has examined how notions of happiness are tied to hegemonic ideologies and desires for capital accumulation that reify themselves precisely through a continuous deferral in the future[16]. This deferral is sustained through “cruel optimism,” in Lauren Berlant’s words, in which the cruelty lies in the fact that it is precisely fantasizing with a desired object that makes actual material conditions of lacking bearable[17]. That is, while the current economic order is predicated on a retraction of the social democratic promise of the post-Second World War period in Western countries, it is also based on the maintenance of “fantasies” of the good life to which we are affectively attached to the point that giving up those fantasies can feel like a form of loss[18]. The question worth exploring here is whether sudden political economic shifts that feel like widespread social shocks might bring about a collective re-examination of hegemonic promises of happiness and upward class mobility. Current indignant performances in Southern European societies emerge out of a social breach between deregulation of the economic sphere according to neoliberal precepts, and an understanding of social rights inherited from the waning social democratic regime characterized by the existence of a widespread social safety net. Understanding how this affect circulates socially and in performance, and how it shapes peoples’ perceptions is, therefore, “a problem of understanding the emergences, changes, and shifts in modes of power”[19]. Indignation, then, is a collective popular reaction to the demise of the European welfare state.

Landscapes of eviction: Madrid and Rome

Notwithstanding similar manifestations of macroeconomic processes, the emergence and evolution of housing movements in Madrid and Rome respond to different historical contexts profoundly shaped by local politics. Spain’s building boom emerged in the 1990s, when the right-wing liberal government of José María Aznar put land that had been formerly protected from building on the market. Spanish banks began to offer inexpensive credit borrowed from other European banks, which in turn were tied to Wall Street. The economy experienced an unprecedented boost, lifting Spain out of the economic hardship that processes of deindustrialization––required by the European Union in exchange for membership––had caused in the 1980s. During the building boom, 87 percent of the Spanish population became homeowners, the highest percentage among EU countries[20]. The eventual rupture of the housing bubble and the global economic crisis that followed in 2008 (together with Spain’s particular legal framework surrounding mortgage loans) resulted in millions of Spanish residents losing their homes[21].

The Roman housing movement is older, and arguably more complex, traversing different historical periods. Initially tied to occupation rather than anti-eviction activities, the movement emerged in the 1970s with the occupation of public property houses belonging to the state or local administrations as a response to the chronic scarcity of affordable houses for ever-growing working classes and the accumulation of real estate property in the hands of a reduced elite class and the Catholic Church. Long and cumbersome bureaucratic requirements often entail years of struggle before the occupiers can achieve any form of legal recognition from public administrators. Local administrations in Rome, of both left and right political leanings, have generally approached these occupation movements with either hostility or, at best, a tolerant attitude that did not adequately address the city’s housing problems. Moreover, the eruption of the actual economic crisis has all but worsened this situation. Sinking under the weight of spiraling debt, local administrations are increasingly selling public resources to the private sector. Development and financial companies are buying these properties with the hope of turning a profit in an economic environment in which investment opportunities are scarce. Meanwhile, indebted and unemployed working classes, many of whom are immigrants, are being evicted on a daily basis.

In both Madrid and Rome, the landscapes against which evictions and mortgage foreclosures occur are strikingly similar. Foreclosed homes are generally located in the city’s periphery, in working-class and immigrant neighborhoods that spread beyond the end of train, subway, and bus routes. In Madrid, foreclosures and evictions are more frequent in the south, southwest and southeast areas of the city, in neighborhoods such as Carabanchel, Usera, San Fermín, Vallecas, Parla, and Villaverde. In Rome, Tor Sapienza, Magliana, Tor Bella Monaca, Alessandrino, Centocelle are some of the most affected areas. In these places, foreclosed apartments are part of multi-storied buildings that spread out by the hundreds next to noisy polluted highways, industrial areas, gas stations, empty fields, and former villages now engulfed by the city. Unfinished buildings, left behind by bankrupt construction companies, show their slow decay of nude bricks and glassless windows. They are the architectural corpses that remain from a time when bank credit seemed endless, and home ownership seemed universally reachable. Ubiquitous “for sale” signs display telephone numbers that nobody will call to make an offer. Left out of tourist guides and cosmopolitan cultural imaginaries, these areas barely count in the administrative efforts that Madrid and Rome make as European capitals to brand themselves as historic, cultural, economic, and political world centers. Here, the immigrant population rate is high and the employment rate is low.

For many of my interlocutors within housing movements in Madrid and Rome, what urged them to act, putting their own body on the line and facing the very real possibility of physical harm, was both a forceful and hard to describe impulse. This impulse was often justified as response to the failure of the existing administrative and state structures––a failure that was perceived as intolerable. The profound mistrust of all existing mechanisms of political representation seem to be a common condition of movements emerging in the global north in the last few years[22] and it is something that many of my interlocutors shared. In both Madrid and Rome, rage against the failure of local, national, and European political structures is pervasive and ubiquitous. Despite the obvious differences in the names of the characters that are to be blamed, all conversations have a similar pattern and an overarching complaint about how politicians “only care about money”. Existing mechanisms of political representation are perceived as insufficient, and the democratic nature of the state is questioned. The failure of existing administrations is often linked to the palpable degradation of urban environments, which according to them has all but worsened in the last few years. Amongst my Roman interlocutors, in particular, the topic of urban degradation emerged frequently. Although I had not planned to ask about this in my interviews, after the first few weeks in the city, I realized it was a major concern. “This has always been a hard city, but now it’s becoming harder, more hostile, unnecessarily aggressive,” said one of the activists I interviewed. Words like sporca (dirty) and pesante (heavy, burdensome) were often used, followed by the explanation that these adjectives were not exactly right to describe it. This degradation was rarely described in specific terms and, upon inquiring, I was almost never offered a concrete example or anecdote that could illustrate what my interlocutors meant. Rather, they talked about it as an unpleasant atmosphere, a sensation, a reality that was palpable yet elusive to words, perhaps because it was registered at the level of daily micro-encounters that could accumulate almost unconsciously to a point of overflow without ever reaching the status of an event. During public assemblies of the housing movement in popular neighborhoods such as Magliana and Tor Sapienza, people took the microphone to denounce the city’s “war on the poor,” and the fact that political administrations only showed concern for certain neighborhoods during electoral seasons. Some of my interlocutors stated that this urban degradation was in fact part of a larger agreement that the city had made with developers, letting some areas decay so they could be later gentrified and revalorized for economic purposes.

Indignant Performances

Housing movements in Madrid and Rome create precarious yet stubborn solidarity networks that address urgent housing problems, articulate a grassroots critique of their political economic causes, and perform social justice. In anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure picket lines, crowds gather in front of the affected peoples’ houses or apartment buildings and wait for the police, sometimes under implacable weather conditions. These crowds range from a few dozen to a couple of hundreds, and their diversity is remarkable. Elderly men and women, middle-aged couples with children, college students, teenagers, or pregnant women stand alongside experienced activists and community organizers. First and second-generation immigrants and people of color form a significant part of these groups. People in the crowd greet each other, form smaller circles, and engage in casual chats. For these crowds, the outcome is always uncertain, and most of the waiting time is spent in mobilizing collective strength and taming individual fears. These gatherings of housing movement members and supporters are indignant street performances in the making. These performances respond to a repertoire of activist behavior forged through repetition, always already performed, and yet new every time. Songs, slogans, and gestures are both familiar and at the edge of emergence. Activists make use of the embodied elements of this repertoire and actualize it depending on what each new gathering might demand.

Performance cuts across these events and manifests in multiple forms, from the smaller everyday gestures of resistance to the all-encompassing epic of the social drama that is the fight with the police. In these performances, everyone has a part, albeit a highly improvisational and precarious one. It is precisely the uncertainty of these performances’ result that opens a space for popular participation, persuading those involved that their role is decisive. In both Madrid and Rome, much of the performance happening in the crowd was meant to build up collective courage to face the police. Particularly in Madrid, certain slogans, such as Que no, que no, que no tenemos miedo (No, no, we’re not afraid) were chanted in a call and response pattern every time police cars showed up and the collective voice of the crowd became stronger and lauder as bodies gathered in front of the building door forming a mass. In fact, police repression, surveillance, the possibility of being arrested[23] and the infiltration of the movement by police were all essential concerns for activists. The extent to which these undercover activities were being carried out by law enforcement is difficult to establish, although the knowledge that this was happening clearly made some activists hyperaware and suspicious of newcomers. Some of my interlocutors in Madrid shared stories about undercover police officers that infiltrated the crowd during the obstruction of evictions and pretended to attack police officers in uniform, giving them an excuse to charge against the crowd and make random arrests. At large gatherings, I saw people pointing to newcomers and unfamiliar faces and having conversations about whether they “looked like” an undercover agent. In the beginning, my own role as an ethnographer and supporter of the movement was questioned on different occasions, whether overtly or through teasing remarks about how I could be one of the maderos.[24]

During gatherings in both Madrid and Rome, people often shared stories about bodies being exposed to police violence, or bodies standing against police repression. In each site, these stories formed a local lore of heroes and villains, with recurrent figures such as the elderly woman who reprimands a police officer, or the young man who is arrested as a scapegoat. These stories reminded participants that they were part of a collective entity, and while the possibility of experiencing physical harm or being arrested was real, their individual effort and exposure was supported and shared by others.

During an anti-eviction picket in the Roman neighborhood of Magliana, activists placed about a dozen black motorcycle helmets on top of a car parked in front of the building where the eviction was going to take place. Their number and positioning suggested that in the case of an actual fight people would wear them to face the police. As the morning went by and no patrol cars showed up, people started to collect their helmets and leave, which made me realize that they actually belonged to the activists who had come riding their motorcycles. Using the available means in a creative aesthetic purpose, the activists performed a particular image of physical strength that was perhaps meant to be as encouraging for participants as discouraging for adversaries.

For those involved, indignant performances are performances of legitimacy and righteous reactions to unjust conditions. The confrontation of police and activists enacts a full-fledged a social drama that reveals the social breach that emerges between the current political economic order and notions of essential democratic rights. Each new repetition of this social drama, each new eviction, only reminds everyone involved that the deployment of police force “marks the point at which the state, whether from impotence or because of the immanent connections within any legal system, can no longer guarantee through the legal system the empirical ends that it desires to attain”[25]. The activists’ physical vulnerability underlines the repressive character of the legal system, widening the social breach between people affected by evictions and their supporters, on one hand, and the banks and state apparatus, on the other. These gatherings are performative, in that they create patterns of social collective behavior that empower participants.

At one gathering in Madrid, a middle-aged single mother of two explained why she had come that day:

I could be in this situation myself very soon. I’m divorced and I have two children that I support by myself. My rent is 700 euros and my monthly income is about 1000. And I’m still in a better situation than many people because if I lose the house I can go to my parents. They don’t have much but they would feed us… At some point I realized that you have to fight. When you have nothing left, you don’t care that much about what you have to lose, and then you realize that fighting is the only thing you have. So you go on the streets, and you fight.

Later, she mentioned she had worked the night before and had slept only two hours, and explained her decision to come by saying that her “body asked for it[26]”. As she said those words, her hand drew a circular motion in front of her stomach, as if describing an energy located inside her body, emerging from her gut, that instigated her to act. In her description, coming to obstruct a home eviction by physically resisting the police was the result of a bodily impulse difficult to describe in rational or emotional terms. Performances of indignation are thus folded into smaller gestures of the everyday. In further explanations, she related this impulse to the inability to stay put while “people were losing their homes because of the banks”. This example illustrates the embodied, pre-cognitive, and relational dimensions of affect, which are both physically felt and related to macroeconomic processes that are rationalized as unjust. Her bodily reaction existed both in reference to a material economic reality and to a political futurity in process. In this case, affect was both embodied and ideological, individual and collective, grounded and contingent.

In all the indignant performances outlined above, the radical political potential lies precisely in the possibility to transform affect into specific gesture and action. These gatherings have the very concrete goal of stopping evictions and more broadly, specific housing rights agendas that depend on the local context. However, insofar as performance is mobilized to do so, the energy released in these gatherings may unleash affective potentialities that then might transform participants and carry into the everyday. These outcomes are notable in their pedagogical potential to signal possibilities of collective action; in the fact that they modify participants and observers; and in the fact that they leave traces of the utopian that remain long after the performance is over.[27]

Housing activism and citizenship

Housing activists in Madrid and Rome make visible the impossibility of reconciling the liberal-democratic ideal of political subject as a bearer of rights with the neoliberal economic organization of urban space, which entails the dispossession and disenfranchisement of the urban working class. These activist movements embody Marxist theorist Henri Lefebvre’s notions of “rights to the city” in their radical potential to resist urban neoliberalism by producing space according to notions of collective ownership and equal distribution of resources[28]. In doing so, they open up possibilities for critically redefining existing notions of citizenship. This is evident in the collaboration of national citizens and immigrants in the claim to housing rights in both Madrid and Rome. However, any formation of citizenship is always a dual project, a contingent relationship between state and society that offers both possibilities of “insurgence” for the historically disenfranchised and consolidation of existing regimes of citizenship[29]. Current housing activism in Madrid and Rome operates in contingent ways, making possible forms of communal living and insurgent grassroots organization of urban space while often appealing to traditional liberal ideals of private property and home ownership. This type of activism is simultaneously a longing for an ever-shrinking welfare state and an embodiment of ways of inhabiting the city space that transcend neoliberal impositions, a contradiction that defines the very essence of indignant citizenship.


As a political possibility, indignation is an opportunity for a collective reexamination of the capitalist promise of happiness. In the context of an economic crisis, with its consequent cut of credit flows and the inability of large numbers of people to face mortgage payments due to unemployment, the promise of happiness attached to middle-class status through the circulation of financial capital is indefinitely postponed. In this instance, feelings of indignation can transform into collective performances of indignation, which open up possibilities for building social alternatives from the perspective of the “unhappy”, those that, according to Sara Ahmed “enter history only as troublemakers, dissenters, killers of joy”[30]. In her view, “to kill joy […] is to make room for possibility, for chance”[31]. Insofar as indignant performances reveal the breach in the promise of happiness, they might provide opportunities for a collective re-examination of the very project of happiness, the fantasy of the good life.

When the woman standing next to me at my first eviction gathering implied that “it doesn’t matter” to be beaten up or arrested “because we are right,” she revealed, first, the friction currently existing between the established political economic apparatus and what increasing sectors of Spanish, and more broadly European, society consider to be fair economic conditions. And second, that this friction fuels new grass-roots political commitments and activist networks that actively challenge neoliberal economy. When indignant bodies come together, they construct an entity full of political impulses. Indignant performances affectively construct the collective body of the crowd as an entity that is powerful enough to perpetually regenerate itself despite individual bodies being dragged, grabbed, pushed, arrested and beaten.

In this article, I have discussed indignation as a political affect that emerges within a specific historical period and geographical location. As affect, indignation is a political re-orientation that emerges and becomes visible in collective performances that potentially disrupt the neoliberal urban space, rehearsing and bringing into being forms of collective ownership, resource redistribution, and space making. As they reclaim space from and against the intertwined interests of financial capital and state urban planning, indignant housing activists in Rome and Madrid offer models to think about forms of urban planning that emerge from below. If we are to explain why oppositional mass movements have practically disappeared, being replaced by a constellation of smaller, highly adaptive groups that work as a constant disturbance of the existing political-economic apparatus, then affect ­–as a collective political catalyst, bodies –as sites of affective circulation, and space –as a field of contention, must be included as objects of analysis.

[1] Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca translates literally as “platform of people affected by mortgages”.

[2] While Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca forms a unified network of local groups that share strategies and guidelines, the Roman movement is much more disaggregated. It is formed of multiple smaller groups that might converge for specific purposes, but that usually organize separately for specific purposes.

[3] Dwight Conquergood. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 35.

[4] My methods included participant-observation and participation in the everyday activities of these activist groups, such as the obstruction of home evictions and mortgage foreclosures, and semi-structured interviews, which were conducted in Spanish in Madrid, and English and Italian in Rome.

[5] Class is a relational identity marker that is highly contingent on local specificities and individuals’ self-description. In this essay, and my work more generally, I define my interlocutors class positions taking into account how they situate themselves in the local class structure.

[6] Based on my ethnographic experience and my interlocutors’ answers, the specific composition of these groups varies. These variations respond to some extent to recent immigration patterns in these countries. For instance, Latinos are a bigger group in Madrid than Rome, and therefore, there are significantly more Latinos participating in the movement in Madrid. Rome has a significant presence o Ethiopians and Eritreans, two groups that are almost inexistent in the Spanish migratory landscape. Moroccans are the biggest North African group in both sites, and Romanians are the biggest Eastern European group.

[7] In Italy, Spain, and Greece, a plethora of activist groups work on a wide range of initiatives, such as opposing the privatization of water resources and public hospitals, occupying former factories, protesting the cuts of the public education system and the raise of university tuition, undertaking legal proceedings against bankers, establishing consumer groups that exchange services and create local fair trade markets, creating eco-gardens in city spaces, organizing free educational activities for unemployed and low income people, organizing workshops and lectures about “fair” economy, etc.

[8] The term “indignation” has been used by Spanish protesters since 2011. Specifically the square occupation movement that emerged in May 2011 is referred to as “Movimiento 15M” or “Movimiento de los Indignados.” While acknowledging this genealogy, I extend the use of this term as a trope through which I examine a wide range of phenomena that has not been necessarily understood by their protagonists under the label of indignation, and which refers to the public circulation of negative affects against shifting political economic landscapes.

[9] These contemporary forms of mobilization in Southern European countries have resonances with other recent waves of protests such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and more recently, the mobilizations in Ferguson. Although a complete examination of these links is beyond the scope of this essay, many of my interlocutors were very aware of these protests and the strategies they use in their claims against the state and regarded themselves as part of broader transnational and global social movements opposing neoliberalism.

[10] Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 16.

[11] Christian Marazzi. Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2011), 45. Marazzi argues that the welfare state has currently become unsustainable because it is a historical model of income redistribution that emerged within the Fordist model of production of the 20th century to create consumers that could absorb the production of capitalist industry. In new models of production that privilege flexibility and adaptability, and where consumers become debtors, the welfare state serves no purpose, from a capitalist point of view.

[12] Brian Massumi. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC, and London: Duke UP, 2002)

[13] Jean-Luc Nancy. Being Singular Plural (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000)

[14] Becoming never happens in a vacuum, but within and against specific historical formations that are traversed by power relations. Thus, becoming happens within a political sphere, which is itself undergoing a process of constant transformation. See John Protervi. Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 50.

[15] Paolo Virno. “The Ambivalence of Disenchatment” in Radical Thought in Italy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996)

[16] Sara Ahmed. The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010)

[17] Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 3.

[18] Ibid., 5.

[19] Ben Anderson. “Modulating the Excess of Affect: Morale in a State of ‘Total War,’” in The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC; London: Duke University Press, 2010), 183.

[20] Ada Colau and Adriá Alemany. Vidas Hipotecadas: De la Burbuja Inmobiliaria al Derecho a la Vivienda (Barcelona: Angle Editorial, 2012)

[21] Spanish legislation regards mortgage loans as personal loans, for which the actual property is only a warranty. This means that, in case of foreclosure, houses cannot necessarily be returned to the bank to cancel the debt. Rather, they are put up for auction, often being sold for much less than the loan’s total value, especially when the market collapsed. The result is that the debtor loses the house but remains indebted to the bank for the rest of the loan.

[22] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. 2011. “The Fight for ‘Real Democracy’ at the Heart of Occupy Wall Street: The Encampment in Lower Manhattan Speaks to a Failure of Representation.” Foreign Affairs Oct, 11. Hardt and Negri have described this mistrust of mechanisms of political representation in the Occupy movement.

[23] In May 2014 two very active members of the Roman movement, Paolo di Vetta and Lucca Fagiano, had been put under house arrest for more than five months for their participation in an anti-eviction picket line.

[24] Slang word to refer to police officers.

[25] Walter Benjamin. “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections (NY: Schocken, 1978), 287.

[26] “He venido porque me lo pedía el cuerpo.”

[27] José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: NYU Press, 2009).

[28] Henri Lefebvre. Writings on Cities (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996)

[29] James Holston. Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008), 13.

[30] Sara Ahmed. The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 17.

[31] Ibid., 20.


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Benjamin, Walter. “Critique of Violence” in Reflections. Trans. Jephcott, Edmund. NY: Schocken, 1978: 277-300. Print.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.

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Author Bio

Andreea S. Micu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her research looks at performance and performance-based activist initiatives that oppose neoliberal economies in the context of the current European economic crisis. Andreea received her B.A. in Journalism and Communication from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain. She received her M.A. in Performance Studies from Texas A&M University, where her research focused on Muslim and Arab American stand-up comedians post-9/11 and the ways in which they employ humor to engage islamophobic stereotypes circulating in society.

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