Prefigurative politics

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‘Prefigurative politics’ refers to how activists embody and enact, within their activism, the socialities and practices they foster for broader society. Inspired by anarchist principles, the core practices characterising prefiguration include participative democracy, horizontality, inclusiveness, and direct action. Gaining visibility with the social movements that blossomed after 1968, and again with the post-1999 movements opposing neoliberal globalisation, prefigurative politics involve deploying political practices that are in line with the activists’ envisaged goals. These, in turn, tend to encompass the construction of a democratic and horizontal society, which must be enacted through egalitarian relationships between activists who refrain from resorting to authoritarian, sexist, and exclusionary means to reach political goals. Yet, what are the origins of this concept? What kind of politics are referred to as prefigurative? Since the concept’s consolidation, anthropologists have been at the forefront of answering these questions, as both researchers and activists. They look at how prefigurative politics intersect with themes dear to the discipline, such as social organisation, globalisation, social change, community-building, and everyday ways of inhabiting the world. This entry explores how prefigurative politics as a concept and as a series of practices have become relevant among those who build horizontal political and social relations, oppose representative democracy, and embody alternative lifestyles. Exploring prefigurative politics leads scholars to question the seemingly straightforward divide between the New Left and ‘old lefts’. Additionally, asking whether right-wing movements can also engage in prefigurative politics helps us better understand the pervasive practices that transform non-institutionalised activism into laboratories from where people foster change and experiment with new socialities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology
EditorsFelix Stein
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2022

Publication series

NameCambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISSN (Print)2398-516X


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