Pablo Fernández defends his Ph.D. dissertation “The construction of a political community: Three essays on work”.

The oral defense will be held Wednesday, May 13th, 2015, 2:30 pm, (Building A, Room 1110).

The Defense Committee is composed of:

  • David Courpasson (Secondary Advisor, and Defense Committee Chair, EMLYON Business School)
  • Robin Holt (External Examiner, U. of Liverpool, UK)
  • Ignasi Martí (Main Advisor, EMLYON Business School)
  • Martin Parker (External Examiner, U. of Leicester, UK)

A longstanding question in social sciences is how it is possible that the poor and powerless get organized and build the necessary conditions to bring about social change for them and their communities, especially when communities have been typically seen as apolitical entities –i.e., as spaces where contestation is avoided, unthinkable, and prevalent power structures are accepted. This dissertation addresses this question through the study of the day-to-day lives of a group of unemployed people who organized themselves and created Cooperative La Juanita, a workers’ cooperative in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Following their case allowed me to think about work in new terms, conceiving it as political action –in the Arendtian sense. Drawing from the data collected, I show, in the second chapter, that work can be organized and lived in ways –what people in the cooperative call a ‘culture of work’- that enable the members of the cooperative to create a political community to resist their previous situation of marginalization and social exclusion. In the third chapter I study how this resisting community has managed to endure. Both social movement scholars and activists recognize the difficulties of mobilizing people for the long haul, moving from the effervescence of the protest to the dull and ordinary work necessary to produce sustainable change. To answer that question, I look at the responses that long lasting unemployed people developed from and for their neighborhood. I identified concrete and local practices and interventions –which I call mundane and everyday politics- that are embedded in a territory. I argue that it is after the encounter with particular and close problems, and experiencing togetherness in the neighborhood, that mundane politics are crafted aiming at enhancing capabilities, creating solidarity ties and normalizing the space. Finally, in chapter four, I focus on the leadership of the social movement from which the cooperative has been created. I maintain that leadership –an overlooked theme on social movement studies- is critical for cases in which those mobilized have seen shattered their capacity to act, and to act together. I found that the leader’s identity work consists not only on framing (in the case of Cooperative La Juanita, a discourse about resisting to the political use of poverty) but also, and importantly, on the creation of an “ethos of resistance” and on the “personification of the resister”. By personifying the resister, the leader offers a role model to the other members of the movement, showing that resisting to oppressive structure is possible.