Decolonising Prefiguration and Ernst Bloch's Philosophy of Hope

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Despite hope and prefiguration naturally belonging together, hope is rarely mentioned in the theory or practice of prefiguration. One plausible explanation for this could be that the concept of hope is confined to philosophy, ethics and religion, and – while it may be recognised as motivating – hope does not seem to befit radical activists’ prefigurative politics, which aim to enact in the present the change desired in the future.

The debate about prefiguration is vast, and this book addresses many of the significant arguments therein. As a concept, prefiguration has a long trajectory that takes us back to the struggles of ‘nineteenth century anarchists and includes the syndicalists, council communists and the New Left’ (Boggs, 1977, p 100). Boggs’s Marxist take on prefiguration relates to radical socialist politics; that is, ‘the embodiment within the ongoing political practice of the movement, of those forms of social relations, decision making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal’ (Boggs, 1977, p 100). This includes the creation of ‘counter-institutions’ (Murray, 2014)– in both the production and social reproduction domains of social life – aiming to foster revolutionary change. With the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, however, the term ‘prefigurative politics’ lost its revolutionary edge; it came to depict only the radicalisation of movements’ organisational processes among activists, who follow Graeber’s reflections on these movements (Graeber, 2011; Murray, 2014). Against this, Raekstad (2018, p 364) defends the substantial role of prefigurative politics in any revolutionary practice beyond the radical democratisation of movements’ processes. Prefigurative politics is not only a struggle against both the state and capitalism but also an experiment to bring about a new society (Raekstad, 2018, p 364); the separation between strategic (confronting and contesting power) and prefigurative (reinventing the world) constitutes a ‘false dichotomy’ (Maeckelbergh, 2016, p 121; Dinerstein, 2015).

In this chapter, I contribute to the debate on prefiguration by immersing myself into Ernst Bloch’s philosophy of hope and his ontology of the not-yet being or becoming. I suggest that both are essential to understanding and decolonising prefiguration. Bloch’s materialist philosophy suggests that hope is neither a passive expectation, nor a fantasy, nor a paralysing ideological discourse; rather, it is a human force that drives the exploration, anticipation and realisation of what is not yet through concrete and historically determined collective praxis. To Bloch, hope is not wishful but wilful (Levitas, 1997). In other words, hope is not utopian in the wishful sense, but a force that guides the search for concrete utopia. The latter is a praxis-oriented category’ (Levitas, 1997: 70). I suggest that the application of Bloch’s philosophy to the understanding and practice of prefiguration enables two things: first, it facilitates a comprehension of ‘prefiguration’ as possibility, based on the utopian feature of the material world; second, it expands the meaning of the concept to a plurality of struggles and movements ranging from urban resistances to the indigenous peoples’ defence of their land based on their cosmologies and knowledges, thus making prefiguration a pluriversal rather than universal endevour. With pluriversality as our ‘ontological starting point’ (Querejazu 2016) prefiguration becomes a process of resistance that containing ‘many ontologies, many ways of being in the world, many ways of knowing reality, and experimenting those many worlds’ (Querejazu 2016). As a pluriversal praxis, prefiguration encompasses the delineation of new practices , like the Occupy Wall Street movement, or the revitalisation of oppressed ones in a new light, like the Zapatistas. Bloch’s philosophy of hope not only authorises a deeper understanding of prefiguration but also facilitates its decolonisation beyond Eurocentric perspectives. When enacted as struggle, hope transforms prefiguration into an all-encompassing pluriversal praxis.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Future is Now
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction to Prefigurative Politics
EditorsLara Monticelli
PublisherBristol University Press
Publication statusAcceptance date - Jun 2021


  • Bloch
  • decolonising
  • pluriversality
  • future
  • becoming
  • not yet


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