Field theory, media change and the new citizen movements: Spain’s ‘real democracy’ turn as a series of fields and spaces

John Postill


A revised, post-Bourdieu version of field theory can help to produce more nuanced analyses of the relationship between media change, the rise of new citizen movements and ongoing struggles for democratic renewal around the world. Taking as my example Spain’s indignados (15M) movement and its political offshoots, I explore the potential uses of a range of field concepts, including a pair of contrasting notions introduced here for the first time: ‘field of civic action’ vs. ‘dispersed civic space’. I argue that Spain’s 15M movement is best understood not as a continuous flow of events but rather as a series of discrete, ephemeral fields of civic action separated by a long hiatus of dispersed civic space. These transient, complexly mediated fields can be regarded as socio-political games of a certain kind, namely as contests in which civic ‘players’ with unique skillsets, including techno-political skills, enter into relationships with other individual and collective players in pursuit of specific goals and rewards. Of particular salience in Spain is the rise of citizen-led initiatives (e.g. PAH, Podemos, Barcelona en Comú) that have managed to bridge the alternative vs. establishment media divide to great social and electoral effect. 

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