One ZAD May Obscure Others. The Fragile Nature of the Act of Occupying

Occupation Movements
By Stéphanie Dechezelles

Since the end of the 2000’s in France, several small ZAD (“Zones to be defended”) have been created against industrial projects. The most famous ones, at Notre-Dame-des-Landes and Sivens, tend to monopolize the attention of activists, media and social scientists. These occupations lead us to question the conditions that have made this protest performance possible and that have made it a success. Based on an ethnographic survey and interviews with the “inhabitants” of a small occupation in relation to the life-stories of ex-“Zadists”, the article explores the social and biographical predispositions for embarking on an occupational career on the one hand. On the other hand, it leads us to question the local dynamics that enable occupying mobilizations. The main hypothesis relies on the fact that occupation is a contentious mode of action whose likelihood of occurring is low and whose politicization conditions are weak. Firstly, most of the inhabitants of small ZADs have experienced social deviance, which causes high turnover and fragile ideological investment. Secondly, the way they engage exposes them to state violence and, furthermore, to moral shocks that entail a high price to be paid for activism. Thirdly, this type of protest option requires local cause entrepreneurs who are able to play the role of intermediary agents.

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