Action dilemmas in prefigurative politics: making prefiguration feasible in Sweden

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Prefigurative political movements often attempt to create and maintain an alternative reality, where activists can enact and experiment with a desired future. Yet, sustained participation in a prefigurative project requires that individuals view this potential future as realizable and feasible. Based on a long-term ethnographic study of a radical left-libertarian movement in Sweden, I identify three dilemmas activists must solve to allow prefiguration to remain feasible, which I term practical prefiguration, principled prefiguration, and purposeful prefiguration. In practical prefiguration, individuals must find ways of balancing commitments and obligations from identities outside the movement with their identities as social movement participants. Principled prefiguration, conversely, focuses on the challenges prefigurative participants encounter as they attempt to translate broad, macro ideological principles into local interactional norms. Finally, purposeful prefiguration explores how activists maintain optimism, hope, and belief in a prefigurative project through creating and maintaining measures of success that are not based on instrumental social change. In this article, I investigate the strategies long-term activists used to solve these problems. I argue these strategies often require changes in movement form, tactics, and character as activists accommodate the realities of the present, which can potentially threaten the prefigurative nature of a political project. The article concludes by arguing that inequalities in prefigurative movements can arise from the solutions to these practical problems, but that prefigurative projects must find ways of balancing present and future if they wish to survive.
TidsskriftSocial Movement Studies
Vol/bindLatest articles
Antal sider17
StatusUdgivet - 2023


  • Identity
  • Prefigurative politics
  • Sweden
  • long-term activism
  • political projects
  • radical left

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