This dissertation aims to develop a theoretical framework for reconceptualizing spontaneous popular action by relating it explicitly to democratic politics. Developing such a framework is necessary to address the inadequacies which emerge from democratic theory literature `s conceptualization of spontaneous popular action in terms of an unmediated, direct form of collective political act. A conceptualization of this kind is deeply problematic, I argue, because it opens up the way to misleading accounts that assume the immediate unity of different actors who participate in real democratic events.
By making this argument, I am not trying to undermine the importance of spontaneous, non-institutional, and extra-parliamentary forms of popular action for democratic politics. On the contrary, I suggest that if we want to fully grasp and evaluate the democratic significance of such instances of popular action, we need an alternative conceptualization that brings to light, rather than erases, the mediatory political and ethical practices that go into the formation of these events. In order to formulate that alternative, I undertake an inquiry that proceeds along two related lines of theorization. First, focusing on the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Antonio Negri and Jürgen Habermas I provide a critical analysis of influential theories of democracy that put popular action at the center of their analyses. In the second "constructive" part of the project, I reinterpret Aristotle's notion of political friendship with a view to construct an alternative way of thinking about democratic politics. Interpreted here as an ongoing activity that involves the collective practices of judging and understanding among different individuals, who deliberate about what is to their interest, choose a course of action, and do what they resolve in common, Aristotle's notion of political friendship makes it possible for us to discern the dynamics of popular action. As such political friendship is a descriptive concept that reveals the mediated and temporal quality of action in concert. It is at the same an ethical concept that embodies the distinctly democratic values of reciprocity and equality, as well as the value of plurality. Understood this way, Aristotle's notion of political friendship provides us with rich conceptual resources to think about and evaluate non-institutional and unpredictable moments of popular action in new ways.