Everyday Political Subjectification and the Rise of Regressive Politics. Downward mobility, urbanization and the production of space in Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig

The aim of the project is to better understand the current dynamics of regressive politics and their anchoring in everyday social experiences. In the case of Germany, which we focus on, we see two indications for the rise of regressive politics: On the one hand the emergence of authoritarian attitudes, which affects society as a whole; and on the other hand, the rise of the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), especially since 2015 and the so-called refugee crisis. Following Jacques Rancière and Henri Lefebvre, we focus on everyday political subjectification and the production of space. In two districts each in Frankfurt am Main and in Leipzig, we examine spatially situated processes of socialization and the formation of political collectivity.

Current discussions on the background of the rise of regressive politics (related names are Bauman, Decker, Demirović, Eribon, Heitmeyer, Hochschild, Mishra, Manow, Nachtwey, Wodack or White) have highlighted the multiplication of manifold experiences of crises as central: globalization-crisis, financial and European debt crisis, climate-crisis, migration-crisis, crisis of labour, reproduction and democracy, etc. Nachtwey recently coined the term society of downward mobility in this context. There is also general agreement that the development of regressive politics is by and large a result of interactions between processes of globalization and neoliberalization (see The Great Regression 2017). However, the specific ways in which these processes establish regressive politics are still unclear: how are socio-economic influences related to cultural factors or matters of identity, might these possibly even determine each other; and what role does migration and immigration play in these processes? Furthermore, we highlight that current dynamics of urbanisation play a crucial role in shaping increasing social conflict: “But as city centres are increasingly trendified, [...] their older inhabitants have been pushed to migrate towards the outer ring. [...] These are areas of mixed residency in which the new multiculturalism is being tested in myriad everyday encounters” (Hall) and all this in context of generalized austerity policies, amplified exclusion and growing poverty.

The study makes an empirically substantiated contribution to discussions on the root causes of the rise of regressive politics: Firstly, by using political subjectification as a way to illuminate social transformation; secondly, by considering the social change from a perspective of ordinariness and taking its spatialization seriously; and third, by building upon ethnographic methods. We contend that in course of the normalization of economic imperatives, such as competition and efficiency, but also in the context of precarization of labour and the dismantling of the welfare state, a profound re-measuring of the relationship between subject and society has taken place (Foucault, Bröckling). In this process, conditions of social collectivity have become eroded and patterns of regressive collectivity strengthened, which, in the context of current crisis experiences, lays the ground for increasing popularity of right-wing politics. Instead of using regression in a temporal sense, which would locate right-wing politics as of the past, we use it to highlight a specific political practice coined by Balibar, in dialogue with Wallerstein: He defines regressive politics in the separation between the demand for rights and the insistence on existing privileges. While the former represents an inclusive form of politics that requires recognition and affirmation of similarities, the latter is based on differentiation. The notion of regression, as we use it, is therefore useful to capture politics that defend established law, and demand the return of allegedly lost privileges.

The study aims to illuminate empirically how society is perceived in everyday experiences and how certain conflicts appear as relevant challenges; what this has to do with downward mobility and the urban production of space, and how these perceptions turn into regressive collectivity and potentially right-wing politics. A multi-sited ethnography (Nadai & Maeder) is carried out in socio-economically marginalized neighbourhoods, where urbanization conflicts occur and where the AfD performed well in the 2017 federal elections: Nied and Riederwald in Frankfurt and Grünau and Schönefeld in Leipzig. In both cities boom and descent lie close together, socio-economic polarization is on the rise and immigration a fact. The comparative gesture (Robinson) of the study is crucial, as it allows to address particularities and similarities in the two cities beyond hierarchical constructions of East and West, and problematic territorializations of the social.

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Regressive Politiken und der Aufstieg der AFD – Ursachensuche im Dickicht einer kontroversen Debatte | 2019

Mullis, Daniel/Zschocke, Paul (2019): Regressive Politiken und der Aufstieg der AFD – Ursachensuche im Dickicht einer kontroversen Debatte, PRIF Report 5/2019, Frankfurt/M.

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Urban conditions for the rise of the far right in the global city of Frankfurt | 2019

Mullis, Daniel (2019): Urban conditions for the rise of the far right in the global city of Frankfurt. From austerity urbanism, post-democracy and gentrification to regressive collectivity, Urban Studies, 4.11.2019.

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Zur Erinnerung vor den Wahlen in Brandenburg und Sachsen: Das Problem AfD heißt nicht Ostdeutschland | 2019

Mullis, Daniel (2019): Zur Erinnerung vor den Wahlen in Brandenburg und Sachsen: Das Problem AfD heißt nicht Ostdeutschland, PRIF Blog, 29.8.2019.

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Chaotische Normalität: Reden mit Rechten hilft – manchmal auch nicht | 2019

Mullis, Daniel (2019): Chaotische Normalität: Reden mit Rechten hilft – manchmal auch nicht. Kommentar zu Robert Feustels „Substanz und Supplement. Mit Rechten reden, zu Rechten forschen?, in: sub/urban. zeitschrift für kritische stadtforschung, 7:1, 173-178.

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Die Global City und der Rechtsruck | 2018

Mullis, Daniel (2018): Die Global City und der Rechtsruck. In vielen Frankfurter Stadtteilen wachsen Empörung und Frust, PRIF Spotlight 2/2018, Frankfurt/M.

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Das Ende der Postdemokratie, den Pessimismus überwinden | 2017

Mullis, Daniel (2017): Das Ende der Postdemokratie, den Pessimismus überwinden, in: PROKLA, 47:3, 481–494.

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