Studying protest in an authoritarian context: The Cuban case

Special report: Observing mobilizations
By Marie-Laure Geoffray

This article reflects on the possibility of observing protest activities in an authoritarian context. Based on eleven months fieldwork in Cuba, it is organized in three parts. First, I argue that an ethnographic research method allows going beyond approaches which tend to oppose authoritarian states and protest movements, though a specific effort at reflexivity is needed in order not to reify the constraint imposed by the context. Secondly, I choose to focus on original sites of observation, the way protest actors appropriate space and dramatize their public actions because they offer relevant clues to analyze the meaning and effects of non-discursive modes of action in a context which criminalizes discursive dissent. Finally, I propose to understand the way protest groups’ activities become politicized, rather than to study the politicization of those groups.


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