Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Setha Low

Committee Members

Melissa Checker

David Harvey

Jeff Maskovsky

Nick Mirzoeff

Subject Categories

American Politics | Other American Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Urban Studies and Planning


social movements, affect, New York City, San Francisco, Occupy Wall Street, gentrification


This ethnographic project starts at the end of Occupy Wall Street in New York City and ends at the beginning of Black Lives Matter in Oakland, CA. In between these two movements it looks at a variety of political projects that focused on issues of housing and anti-gentrification in New York City and San Francisco. Throughout I favor a view of social movements that understands the messy trajectories of activism. This methodological privileging of what activists are doing, and the places and spaces in which they ground their work seeks to de-center bounded social movements in the study of politics instead focusing on movement afterlives as well as the complicated affective states that movements are part of and produce for their participants.

All the projects that I follow in this dissertation use horizontal organizing methods and a direct-action approach to political change. I argue that if horizontal organizing (the practice of horizonalidad that Marina Sitrin describes) contains within it the formation of new social relationships then it must also be understood as a part of a process of becoming for both movements and their participants. I argue that this process is an affective one in which political collectivities forge affective ties. As such in every chapter of this dissertation attention is paid to the affective components of political community building and movement making. In this sense this project is not just about political movements, urban spaces and activism—but also how such movements and urban spaces are also always spaces of affect, belonging, loss, memory, and emotion which shape the kinds of politics which take place within them. I bring a detailed ethnographic lens to these issues, carrying out “protest anthropology” (Maskovsky 2012) and using engaged research methods alongside life history interviews.

In the first chapter I examine the end of Occupy Wall Street as it was constructed by some of its participants. In looking at these instances of historical production I examine how movement participants consciously embodied and produced a historical narrative about Occupy that honored its horizontal ethos by providing room for a multiplicity of voices and affective states. I argue that through these acts of historical production the movement was consciously “ended” for some of its participants and that this ending was necessary for its afterlife. Here narrative, affect and political subjectivity played an integral role in this process of historical production.

The second chapter looks at how, amidst trying to make sense of the changing political climate, many of those who had been involved with Occupy continued organizing, grounding themselves in new political projects in the city. In this chapter I use a detailed ethnographic lens to chronicle this early afterlife of Occupy through the rise and fall of one such project, The Anti-Eviction Network, from its start to its eventual dissolution. In analyzing this case I look at how activists used their experiences from Occupy in attempting to build a city-wide network of anti-eviction organizing, and how in doing so they re-forged and created new kinds of political relationships and community.

In Chapter Three I begin with an overview of San Francisco’s political economic and spatial transformation amidst the current tech boom, offering a regional political economy of San Francisco and Oakland. I then discuss how the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) an activist mapping collective, has worked to visualize and map this political economy. In this section I also describe my role in co-founding the Narratives of Displacement and Resistance project, an oral history project that records the life histories of those being effected by gentrification in the Bay Area. I then turn to two of the narratives collected from this project to discuss the intimate politics of eviction.

Chapter Four turns to two types of direct action in San Francisco: the Google bus blockades and the fight over permitting practices at the Mission playground. I analyze both incidents as forms of infrastructural activism that transformed mundane public spaces into affective sites of resistance. I also look at how protestors used narratives of settler colonialism to connect longer histories of dispossession to current processes of gentrification.

Finally Chapter Five is an ethnography of the nightly Black Lives Matter protests in the Bay Area from the end of November 2014- Winter 2015. Here I use my attendance and participation in the protests as my primary data. In moving from San Francisco to Oakland my focus in this chapter shifts from that of San Francisco as a city to a broader narrative about the dynamics of protest and political economy in the region. In the first section I start with ethnography of the protests arguing that doing protest anthropology in protests such as these requires particular methodological practices and engagements. Here I challenge mainstream narratives about these protests as “violent” or disorganized, arguing instead that there was an affective state of intimacy and care formed in the streets during the protests. I also point out some of the contradictions in the protests and focus on how gentrification was connected to the broader message of Black Lives Matter. In the second section I place the protests within the context of urban redevelopment in the region arguing that increased policing in Oakland can be read as part of a security regime built to protect capitalist urban redevelopment, gentrification, and the regional restructuring of the Bay Area’s economy.

I conclude by discussing the framework of “affective afterlives” and its use for studying social movements and by offering some preliminary thoughts on the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Saturday, September 30, 2023

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