Mob Politics in Asia

Singapore, 12 – 13 March 2015. In the seminar Mob Politica in Asia at the Asian Research Institute of NUS, I will present a paper titled “Umbrellas and Revolutions – The Aesthetics of the Hong Kong Protests.”

The umbrella movement of Hong Kong may look like a typical social mobilization event, one in which a clear goal – democracy – manages to unite thousands of people. A closer look reveals, however, that this framing ignores the multiple aims articulated during the protest, aims that are also directed against, amongst others, the increased precarity of labour in Hong Kong, the unbridled power of real estate developers and the increaseing levels of inequality that characterise the city. The absence of clear leaders, the constantly shifting goals, the refusal to unite around a coherent set of ideas, make it more fair to view the movement as post-identitarian, one that constantly reinvents itself, during the struggles. Aesthetics play a crucial role in this continuous process of negotiation: at times a spectacular aesthetics, in which traffic signs for example are altered, or in which images of the Cultural Revolution are appropriated and given new meanings; at other moments we witness an aesthetics of cleanliness and proper behaviour, such as the establishment of study zones for students. What can we learn from the aesthetics mobilised during the umbrella movement, how does it help us understand the poetics and politics of post-identitarian social movements, and how do they enable or disable new modes of cultural citizenship and belonging? These are the questions I aim to address in this paper.