This dissertation is a case study of a <italic>bachillerato popular</italic> (people's high school) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Founded in the wake of Argentina's 2001 crisis, the school is a secondary school completion project for adults operating under the umbrella of the "National Assembly," a large social movement that is structured non-hierarchically and uses consensus-based decision-making. Based on a year of feminist ethnographic fieldwork and supplemental in-depth interviews, the study analyzes daily life at the school to develop a better understanding of social movements more broadly. This dissertation contributes to the existing sociological literature on social movements in three important ways. First, I develop the concept of <italic>utopian social movements</italic>, a lens for analysis of movements that incorporates meaning-making and claims-making into a single framework (in strong contrast to the popular theoretical paradigm of contentious politics). The school struggles to improve the material conditions of participant activists, a majority of whom are marginalized across multiple axes of difference (i.e., race/nationality, class, and gender). At the same time it seeks to establish the conditions for what is here termed <italic>dialogic freedom</italic>, the idea of liberation as a condition of being that is dialogic, reflexive, dialectic, and processual. Dialogic freedom is practiced through critical pedagogy as well as a more broadly intellectual vision of politics, and the way it is intertwined at the people's high school with a daily and long-term struggle to achieve better housing, food, and living conditions is a hallmark of utopian social movements. Second, I show how the school accomplishes its goals by producing a <italic>collective subject</italic>, which is (re)produced through a combination of structural and affective elements in practice at the people's high school: non-hierarchy, consensus, <italic>mística</italic>, and <italic>everyday collective effervescence</italic>. The case of the people's high school highlights the centrality of affective practices to liberatory politics, including those movements which take material deprivation as their starting point. Finally, this research makes an important empirical contribution to existing knowledge about social movements by describing in rich ethnographic detail how the school's ambitious utopian project is carried out by the subaltern and under what conditions.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2014. Major: Sociology. Advisor: Douglas Hartmann. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 282 pages.
Redefining social movement: Utopianism and popular education in Buenos Aires.
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