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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Nicholas Xenos

Second Advisor

Sonia E Alvarez

Third Advisor

Laura Briggs

Fourth Advisor

Angelica Bernal

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Political Theory | Social Justice


In recent history, democratic popular assemblies have played a significant role in political organizing worldwide. Contemporary theorists and social movement scholars see a global ethos of collective action in the growth of the assembly form. This dissertation studies the language of collective action in two movements that illustrate the global significance of assemblies: the neighborhood assemblies of Buenos Aires in 2002 and the New York General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. These movements were connected by transnational networks of activism and a commitment to internal democracy now prevalent in the global left. This research asks two questions: what is the impact of local political culture and history on principles of collective action? Do local histories of activism produce unique languages of politics despite the increased transnationalization of collective action? I answer these questions in a qualitative study of original texts produced by each movement, such as serial publications, pamphlets, and online minutes. My dissertation demonstrates that grounded histories and political culture matter to languages and practices of collective action, even if participants appear to be implementing well-known global principles of collective action.

Participants in both movements sought to implement direct democracy at their assemblies. However, their democratic practices varied, much like the meaning of guiding concepts such as autonomy, direct democracy, and equality. Such conceptual difference and their associated practices respond to the political history and intellectual language that informed their democratic practices. The second chapter shows that autonomy did not mean independence from the state or government for Argentine assembly participants. Instead, autonomy worked as a language convention that enforced a political boundary between traditional political forces and the new democratic people. In the third chapter, I discuss the meaning and role of direct democracy in Argentine Assemblies. The culture of fear and a manufactured class fragmentation were frameworks that made direct democracy more than a decision-making mechanism. In assembly spaces, direct democracy was known as a mechanism of personal transformation where fearful and private individuals overcame logics of private retreat and class-based antagonisms, becoming fully democratic citizens in command of their associational life. In the final chapter, on Occupy Wall Street, I show that participants understood equality in democratic deliberations through the lens of feminist legal scholarship. As Occupiers worked to include marginalized voices in decision-making spaces, the equalitarian mechanisms they used carried an epistemology of difference indebted to intersectionality. For them, working on the self to rid it of prejudice and bias was political work to address the manifestations of systems of oppression at the camp. Occupiers focused on creating ideal deliberative conditions through individual transformation. Finally, I close the manuscript reflecting on the ongoing need to decenter the North-Atlantic experience from the lens of social movement scholarship and the opportunities missed if scholars of collective action ignore the affective register, so relevant for movement participants in assembly movements.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.