Navigating the Rebel Archipelago: Orientation, Space and Communication in the “Autonomous” Scene

Gerbaudo, Paolo. 2010. Navigating the Rebel Archipelago: Orientation, Space and Communication in the “Autonomous” Scene. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This work discusses the dynamics of participants' orientation in the "autonomous scene": the space of participation of autonomous movements, anti-capitalist and antiauthoritarian movements practising direct action. My thesis examines how participants make sense of different situations of participation along their trajectory in the scene, and analyses the role played by a variety of communicative practices acting as "means of guidance" or "sources of orientation" inside the scene. It advances a performative understanding of cultural process, by focusing on the changing relationship between spatio-temporal coordination and communication, in a phase marked by the penetration of the Internet and mobile phones.

The empirical analysis concentrates on the case of the autonomous scenes in Italy, Germany and the UK and on a series of global protest events attended by autonomous activists in recent years. With the use of participant observation, interviews and textual analysis I reconstruct how participants maintain a sense of place and a sense of direction in collective action and the specificity of different forms of communication that aid orientation. I develop an understanding of the experience of "autonomous activism" as marked by a striving for orientation in which activists are constantly on the brink of getting lost, because of the lack of a strong "guidance" as in the case of authoritarian movements. The autonomous scene comes to be framed as a navigational space in which many trajectories are possible, and it is down to participants to make sense of their own "itinerary". The thesis concludes that the autonomous scene displays forms of togetherness which recall the ephemerality of other antagonistic or subcultural groupings, yet testify to the problems encountered by social movements in the face of a liquid and individualised society.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Autonomous Scenes, Orientation, Space, Communication, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Global Protests, Autonomous Activism, Social Movements, Direct Action

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

01 Jul 2020 08:22

Last Modified:

18 Oct 2022 12:44


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