On the Necessity of Prefigurative Politics

Lara Monticelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The purpose of this article is to elaborate on the concept of prefiguration by outlining the necessity of its contribution to a progressive public philosophy for the 2020s. In the introduction, I explain how the object of critique for many social theorists has shifted over the course of the last decade from neoliberal globalization to capitalism understood as an encompassing form of life. In light of this, I enumerate the features that should define a progressive public philosophy: radical, emancipatory, and decolonized. The introduction is followed by an overview of the academic debates emerging after the North Atlantic financial crisis of 2007–8. Among these, accelerationism fundamentally rejects the incorporation of prefigurative politics in any emancipatory political agenda. To better understand this position, I examine the origin and meaning of prefiguration and prefigurative practices in more detail in Section III. In it, I argue that prefigurative politics entails a holistic approach to social change that digs its roots in feminist and ecological thought and focuses on social reproduction and the preservation of life rather than solely economic production. Subsequently, I deploy the case of Occupy Wall Street to show that a growing number of contemporary social movements are implementing a dualistic strategy that simultaneously combines repertoires of action typical of protest movements with prefigurative practices focused on the embodiment of alternatives. This dualism, along with the limited success of Occupy Wall Street in concretizing its claims and goals, has led prefigurative politics to being labelled as incompatible with, if not even hindering, any emancipatory strategy. My argument instead is that prefigurative politics constitutes a fundamental and necessary component of any political strategy aimed at transcending contemporary capitalism since it conceives progressive social change in an ontologically and epistemologically different way with respect to political parties and protest movements. Taking this into consideration, I conclude that conventional politics and prefigurative politics can be seen as having the potential to mutually reinforce each other and that prefigurative politics should be acknowledged as a pivotal concept in establishing a progressive public philosophy for the 2020s. Only by doing so, will this philosophy be truly radical, emancipatory, and decolonial.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)99-118
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: November 15, 2021.


  • Alternatives to capitalism
  • Concrete utopias
  • Occupy Wall Street
  • Prefiguration
  • Prefigurative politics
  • Prefigurative social movements
  • Progressive public philosophy

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